The genre of inspirational sports drama receives its latest film with Heart of Champions, from Vertical Pictures. Michael Mailer helms the film while Vojin Gjaja handles the screenplay which throws dabbles of sports and coming-of-age tropes. After finishing last in the national championship, a college rowing team descends into turmoil and constant infighting between team leaders Alex (Alexander Ludwig) and John (Alex MacNicoll).
A tough Army veteran, Coach Murphy (Michael Shannon), arrives at the start of the new season to transform the status quo and unlock their true potential. Using his experience and unconventional methods to help them overcome petty rivalries and personal challenges, Coach Murphy must inspire these young men to learn what it takes to be a team before becoming champions.
Heart of Champions occurs between 1999 and 2000 and opens with an impressive scene introducing us to the rowing team at the fictions Beeston University. From the onset, we see that the team is talented but lacks focus, and we get an early glimpse of Beeston University alum Coach Murphy (Michael Shannon) looking on in disgust. Cut to the introduction of Chris (Charles Melton), a new player whom you know is just what the team needs, and you have the making of a traditional sports film.
All of the things you expect to see in a film like this are here; the tough as nails coach whom the boys initially hate but come to love, the love triangle that causes a rift between two teammates, a tragedy that inspires the team before the film’s big climax and of course an overbearing parent. There is nothing you have not seen in other movies that Heart of Champions touches on, but thankfully, the skill of Michael Shannon helps elevate the film a bit. Kudos to Alexander Ludwig and Charles Melton as well, who elevate their characters above the typical fare as well.
Heart of Champions may be formalistic and predictable. However, I do recommend checking the film out based on the strength of Michael Shannon’s performance.
Final Grade: C
Heart of Champions is available On Digital and On Demand November 19, 2021