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Safety – Movie Review

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Safety – Movie Review

Rating: B (Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Walt Disney Studios

Among the less talked about films produced by Disney are their inspirational sports dramas, which used to be an annual event. Some would be overly sentimental and saccharine, but others would find the right balance in telling an athlete or team’s story. Safety thankfully falls into the latter category. Rather than being about winning the big game, this is focused specifically on a player trying to juggle his family life with his athletics. Based on the true story of American football player Ray McElrathbey, Safety works in making his dilemma compelling and having one be sympathetic towards the troubles facing him.

One isn’t sure what route the movie will take at first and it initially seems like it will go down the familiar path. However, once Ray’s younger brother Fahmarr enters the picture, Safety makes its intentions clear. Director Reginald Hudlin, working off a screenplay credited to Nick Santora and Randy McKinnon, balances the comedy of trying to hide his brother on the Clemson University campus with the drama that ensues with the stress that piles on Ray. We see firsthand the troubled sibling relationship they have, but also the wish they both have to see each other succeed. Jay Reeves and Thaddeus J. Mixon have a solid chemistry that make them believable as brothers.

The film makes sure to highlight the stakes, as we see Ray attempt to handle his many responsibilities. Safety also doesn’t shy away from the troubles caused when a parent becomes addicted to drugs and how the children can suffer, because of this. There is enough time spent learning about Ray and Fahmarr and so we grow to care about them and root for them the same way the football coaches and other teammates do. Meanwhile, other characters like Ray’s roommate, a friendly college book store employee and his head coach are properly fleshed out and make for engaging personalities.

Hudlin avoids getting too schmaltzy with his direction and instead lets the situations they have to overcome speak for themselves. There is an antagonist early on, portrayed in the typical jock manner and who feels like he dropped out of an ‘80s college movie. He’s depicted as intensely hateful towards Ray with no real reason given and is rather over-the-top. There is enough conflict in the movie that this character feels largely unnecessary. However, we eventually see a bit more of his personality, even if it comes a bit out of nowhere. Despite being a sports movie, there aren’t too many football scenes. Although the few scenes there exist are well directed by Hudlin, with the needed impact when players are tackled.

Safety does the job of being an inspirational drama that makes us care about the leads, but them winning the championship is secondary to Ray’s decision in having to choose between family and college life. It does bring to mind the sort of fare that was common on “The Wonderful World of Disney” back in the day, but that’s not an insult. This is a well-made film with solidly drawn characters and it moves at a decent clip. There is enough investment in what’s going on that even somebody with little interest or knowledge about college football can find it compelling and moving.

Stefan Ellison