Movie Review: “Greater” is less than the sum of its jumbled up parts


The faith-based football bio-drama “Greater” fails on so many levels one scarcely knows where to begin.

It’s an uninspiring “inspiring true story,” an emotionally barren trial of faith, a dry-eyed weeper in which we know the hero is living on borrowed time.

It’s a “Rudy” that fails to touch, a “When the Game Stands Tall” that isn’t the least bit moving, and a choppy, misshapen mess as narrative.

We have uninteresting actors playing”kids” with crows’ feet passed off as college students. And we have football games that in almost no way mimic the real thing.

It’s about Brandon Burlsworth, a fat kid (Christopher Severino) whose mama (Leslie Easterbrook) raised him to be a good Christian, to show character. But she never let on that at 335 pounds, he was obese.

“You’re not fat. You’re just a big ol’boy.”

His dream — her dream — his brother’s (Neal McDonagh) dream — his daddy’s (Michael Parks) dream — was for him to play for the University of Arkansas. He gambles everything on attending and getting on the team as a walk-on.

He’s picked up on by his teammates, who resent his goofy self-righteousness.

“Just’cause this guy thinks he’s BETTER than us doesn’t mean we have to agree with him!”

His coaches cuss him and consider him a klutz. But Brandon puts his mind to it, and outworks everybody else. At a time when football was in decline at this football mad SEC school, Burlsworth’s work ethic inspired his bad teams to improve.

“Character’s what you do when nobody’s looking,” a coach notes.

But to Burlsworth, “Somebody’s always looking.” That would be the Almighty.

Severino is convincingly fat when he needs to be, athletic as the script puts him through “the training montage,” but Burlsworth is dull as a character, and no amount of Razorback hype (“The greatest walk-on in college football history!”) changes that. He’s burnished and has any edge the real kid might have had rubbed off.

His faith makes him a teetotaler, setting up the teammates’ drinking prank scene that we know is coming.

But the faith stuff — with his brother, and others — seems shoehorned in, not organically part of the story or who Burlsworth was.  The film purports to wrestle with “Why do the good die young?” and “Why doesn’t God give us what we pray for?” But there’s no theological authority to answer that, and the choppy flashbacks of the story don’t come to grips with it.  The sage philosopher “farmer” (Nick Searcy) who talks about football and metaphysics and what-not to the older brother may be the silliest script device ever.

And the frame of the film — it’s told as a flashback the brother has on the day of the kid’s funeral — utterly deflates it long before it has run its two hour and ten minute course.

Burlsworth might be a big deal in Arkansas, with statues, a foundation and a myth to go with him. This movie does little to explain why. As a big screen entity, he’s no “Gipper.” Heck, he’s no “Rudy,” either.



MPAA Rating: PG for thematic elements, some language and smoking

Cast: Christopher Severino, Neal McDonagh, Leslie Easterbrook, Michael Parks
Credits: Directed by David Hunt, script by Brian Reindl, David Hunt. A Hammond Entertainment release.

Running time: 2:10

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
This entry was posted in Reviews, previews, profiles and movie news. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Movie Review: “Greater” is less than the sum of its jumbled up parts

  1. Every other thing that I’ve read and seen about this movie has me looking forward to watching this movie. It seems to me that this review is a product of antipathy for Christians than for the movie. I will go watch it and judge for myself. I’m guessing this will be like “Facing the Giants” or “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi” and the audience will love it, but Hollywood reviews will be just like this one.

    • You’re going to be sorely disappointed. There just isn’t much to it — in performances, emotional scenes, punch, etc. It’s like “Forrest Gump” without the pathos or laughs. Some good training camp scenes. Nothing more.

  2. Susan Case says:

    I saw the movie and thought it was great and very inspirational. Everyone that I know that saw it loved it. I actually went and saw it again. I thought it was better than Rudy. I am not sure how you got to be a critic but you don’t know what you are talking about. Brandon overcame all kinds of obstacles and kept his faith and became an All American and was drafted. And by the way he is a big deal not just to Arkansas but to kids in lots of states who benefit from his charities. You obviously have no faith or taste.

    • You’re obviously from Arkansas. Where it will play…great.
      But since you’ve gone to the trouble of making up a fake screen name to comment on something, let me address your specifics.
      Film critics review the film. Not the real life person it is based on. Not that person’s faith.
      The good “faith-based” movies of the past ten years are as follows — “Soul Surfer,” “Facing the Giants,” “Risen,” and “Miracles from Heaven.” Good actors telling a compelling story with faith as essential component of that story and those characters.
      “Greater” doesn’t have any of those components.
      And here’s why “Rudy” endures, and “Greater” is forgettable. People hate on “Rudy” because “Notre Dame.” Just as you’re raving up this George Gipp figure from Razorback history because you’re a Razorback fan. I don’t have a dog in that fight.
      But “Rudy” was about aiming impossibly high, and not realizing what you will achieve even if you fall short ( a college degree, the first in your family, from a great college). A plucky undersized self-promoter superfan gets on the field for the Fighting Irish, and eventually gets a Sports Illustrated profile, and a movie made about him. The story lured a very good cast, a name director, a top drawer composer, etc.
      “Greater” is about a lineman sized lump who exercised and learned the footwork of one of the game’s simplest positions — it really is all about how much size you have on “The Blind Side” — who died ridiculously young. And it’s about why bad things happen to good people. The former is inherently uninteresting, the latter the movie fails to grapple with. In two hours and ten minutes.
      It’s a film that didn’t attract the talent, budget or studio distribution because the money folk and the doyens of filmdom saw the same thing in it that I did, and that many other critics did.
      “Yeah, so what?”

      • AC says:

        Oh, come on. Rudy more well known simply because it’s a story attached to ND. That’s it. At its core it’s ultimately about guy that tried hard but never actually succeeded on the field. If he hadn’t been tied to ND no one would know him.

  3. Lulua Mahalo says:

    This movie would play well with the majority of Americans, but they are unlikely to see it in theaters due to guys like rogerinorlando and critics.

    It does not fit Hollywood’s narrative and goes against what it puts out as entertainment.

    There used to be a time when Hollywood did make inspiring movies. One of the reasons Americans were happier and better off then.

    • No, it wouldn’t and won’t. It lacks the fundamentals that make up a good movie. But go on, live in your delusions. It hasn’t made a dime north of the SEC, and will be on Netflix before you can call the hawgs home.

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