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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Greater is an inspirational sports drama about real-life hero Brandon Burlsworth, who's possibly the most successful "walk-on" (un-recruited) football player in the history of the University of Arkansas. Because the movie is framed by a funeral and family members' grief after Burlsworth's accidental death, it's clear from the beginning that sadness will accompany the otherwise uplifting story. This story focuses on Burlsworth's ambition, work ethic, family relationships, and strong religious convictions; teamwork and courage are strong themes. The fact that he was considerably overweight in his early years results in some teasing, fat-shaming, and bullying; there's also some use of words including "ass" and "s--t." Football action is sometimes hard-hitting, but no serious injuries result. One character is an alcoholic and gets very drunk in a pivotal scene.
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What's the story?
As GREATER begins, preparations are underway for the memorial service of young Brandon Burlsworth (newcomer Chris Severio), beloved son, brother, teammate, and friend to what appears to be the entire town of Harrison, Ark. His much-older brother, Marty (Neal McDonough, in an affecting, solid performance) is struggling with his faith in the aftermath of the tragedy. As Marty attempts to understand why his extraordinary brother's life was cut short, he remembers the arc of Brandon's life from the age of 12 on. Raised by a poor but dedicated single mom and estranged from his alcoholic dad, Brandon is an awkward, overweight boy with dreams that seem out of his reach. But even as a boy, Brandon's faith in both himself and his religion never waver. Neither does his ability to commit to whatever task or goal is set before him. Over the next decade -- converting even the most skeptical coaches and teammates, as well as his brother -- Brandon transforms himself into an impressively good offensive guard on both his high school and college football teams. As a walk-on at the University of Arkansas, Brandon's efforts earn him both a place on the school's NCAA top-ranked team and a scholarship. He excels, earning the respect and devotion of others, many of whom become better people because of him. Then, after years of astonishing but well-deserved success (including receiving both bachelor's and master's degrees while a student at the university, a feat never before achieved at the college by a football player) -- and only weeks after being drafted by the NFL's Indianapolis Colts -- his life is accidentally and tragically ended.
Is it any good?
A fitting tribute to an outstanding young man, this drama tells Burlsworth's story in a clear-eyed, respectful way that both entertains and inspires. Though it's a low-budget film, Greater has been graced with some outstanding supporting performances and an able production. And, while successfully capturing the impact that Burlsworth's devotion to Christian principles had upon his life, the film's messages aren't heavy-handed.
The only scenes that feel forced are the encounters between Marty, with his bittersweet memories and flagging belief in God, and an anonymous character who, while well-played in multiple scenes by Nick Searcy, is there specifically to offer counter-arguments to faith. But ultimately this is a a satisfying film that's meant to be shared by families. While it will be especially relevant for those with strong religious convictions, it's accessible to all.
Talk to your kids about ...
How did Brandon deal with the bullies in his story? What did his tormentors learn from him? How did he integrate the concept of forgiveness into his behavior? Was it effective? Why or why not?
Why do you think Greater is told in a "flashback" format? How does it help tell Marty's story? Do you think that knowing early on that Brandon died helped make the final events less sad/distressing?
How did Marty's recollections aid in his own transformation and help him accept Brandon's death?
- In theaters: August 26, 2016
- On DVD or streaming: December 20, 2016
- Cast: Neal McDonough, Christopher Severio, Leslie Easterbrook
- Director: David Hunt
- Studio: Hammond Entertainment
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Sports and Martial Arts, Friendship, Great Boy Role Models, Misfits and Underdogs
- Character Strengths: Courage, Teamwork
- Run time: 130 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: thematic elements, some language, and smoking
- Last updated: April 09, 2020
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