'Greater' Review: Strong Religious Film Raises Tough Questions

John Hanlon
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Posted: Aug 26, 2016 12:01 AM

The ending of many inspirational films feels like the period at the end of a sentence. The hero of the story starts out as the underdog, faces off against insurmountable odds and ultimately ends up the victor. What makes the new inspirational religious drama Greater so different and unique is that it ends in a question. Instead of settling into the predictable tropes, the feature dares to ask a larger question that other similarly-themed films wouldn’t dare to think about.

Christopher Severio stars here as Brandon Burlsworth, a wannabe football player who dreams of joining the University of Arkansas’ football team, the Arkansas Razorbacks, From a young age, the non-athletic  Brandon wants to play for them. His older brother Marty (Neal McDonough) — who is often mistaken for Brandon’s father —doubts Brandon’s abilities. Brandon is, after all, a heavyset youngster, who doesn’t seem driven by much of anything. 

But when Brandon discovers the Razorbacks, he goes into overdrive. He wants to be a member of the team. He needs to be a member of the team. And he will fight tirelessly to be a member of the team.

Brandon’s drive though isn’t what opens the film. Nor is it what closes the film.

The story opens after Brandon has tragically died at the age of 22. His older brother Marty feels lost, not knowing how God could’ve taken his little brother away from him, and the entire film is framed around Brandon’s funeral. Brandon was a person of faith and his family members, fellow Churchgoers and friends wonder why this happened to such an honorable person.

The story then flashes back to Brandon’s incredible quest to become, what one announcer calls, the most successful walk-on player in football history.  Brandon fought the odds stacked against an overweight young man with an alcoholic father, a tough-minded brother, and an athletic community that often laughed at his dreams. 

Directed and co-written by David Hunt (who wrote the screenplay with Brian Reindl), the drama begins slowly — focusing more attention than necessary on Brandon’s father — but really gets going as soon as Brandon hits the football field. It’s here where the story embraces the main character’s unique journey to greatness. 

Brandon didn’t have the physique or the toughness to play so his coach tells him to show up for practice earlier than everyone else and leave later. And that’s exactly what he did.

As a religious person, Brandon questioned his own ambitions.  “I have to suffer for everything I get,” he says about his dreams of playing football, “Maybe it’s not what God wants.” But he persists and ultimately inspires his whole community through his sheer force of will. 

It’s undeniable that Brandon’s story is an incredible one. The filmmakers here capture that brilliantly by showing all of the obstacles that stood in his way and then showing how he was able to overcome them.  Severio truly captures the character’s naivety and eagerness that helps him overcome every issue standing in his way

Admittedly, Brandon comes off as a bit too perfect at times. It might’ve helped to see more of his faults and some of the conflicts he faces (such as his relationship with his college roommates) come off as a bit trite. The picture, which clocks in at two hours and ten minutes, also feels a bit long at times. 

Such criticisms aside, the story delivers on both an inspirational level and on a deeper one. The questions the film asks — about Brandon’s untimely death — are important ones that really make this story stand out. In the end, viewers can decide for themselves what they want to believe but the film nobly asks strong questions about faith and spirituality and whether or not death is truly the end.

If you’re looking for something else to inspire you, click here for a list of 10 inspiring movies about patriots.