In the tradition of great sports hero films like “Rocky,” “Invincible” is predictably inspirational. The fantastic surprise is that it is a PG-rated Disney film that is both incredibly well-made and full of gritty realism.
Not unlike “Good Will Hunting,” this is the story of a loyal pack of friends deeply bonded and living under less than privileged circumstances. “Invincible” takes place in South Philadelphia in the late seventies and, again similar to the South Boston boys in “Hunting,” one of them stands out as the member of the group who could do something special and give them all the hope they’ve been missing. “Invincible” is the story of 30-year-old substitute teacher/bartender Vince Papale played by Mark Wahlberg, who responds to a call for open tryouts with the Philadelphia Eagles football organization and becomes a much needed hero to his friends, neighborhood and city when he beats the odds and makes the team.
Wahlberg once again shows his natural ability to convey the depth and center of a simple yet remarkable man. He has an innocence and sincerity that has allowed him to create and embody such wonderful characters like Papale and Dirk Diggler, the porn-star-with-a-heart-of-gold in “Boogie Nights.” While he may never escape Marky Mark comments, his admirable work has absolutely reduced his adolescent identity to a humorous side note.
Papale went on to play with the Eagles from ‘76-’79, and was part of the spark that allowed then head coach Dick Vermeil played by Greg Kinnear, to eventually return the wilted Eagles to their rightful place as contenders in the NFL.
First time feature director Ericson Core presents a deeply articulated vision of the seventies, complete with poor television reception and a wash of auburn colors that accurately depict the decade in its decline. Like Cameron Crowe’s 70s rock masterpiece “Almost Famous,” the costume design and art direction for the very specific time period are flawless and dead on. Although the era was anything but subtle, the choice to avoid kitsch – particularly in the clothes -prevented any unnecessary distractions, properly immersing the audience in the times.
As is always the case with movies about real people, there have been liberties taken…to what extent I do not know. The danger in telling stories about people still living is that there are plenty of witnesses to dispute whatever version of the story is put on screen. “Invincible” is certainly no exception, but I love that at the conclusion of the film we see images of both the real Papale and Vermeil, neither of whom are as visually appealing as Kinnear or Wahlberg. What already appears to be an authentic film grabs a little more credibility by admitting it isn’t totally accurate, but instead it is a feel good, real-life hero story that is extremely similar to what you’ve just seen.
There is no question you can take the kids to see “Invincible.” It is nothing short of wholesome American entertainment. Sports fans and movie fans alike will get what they came for and then some – and as a special added bonus we can finally put the football fiasco that is “Any Given Sunday” behind us.