There’s been an intense recent debate around free labour, unpaid internships and the like. So it makes sense that discussing compensation for collegial athletes be a part of the conversation.
National Champions follows a star quarterback who – dismayed with the wealth distribution in college sports – boycotts the championship game until equal pay and benefits are given to his teammates.
LeMarcus James is the man with the most talent, and he’s using his clout to find compensation for those student-athletes around him, regardless of personal cost.
The plot on its face is interesting, but it’s unfortunate writer Adam Mervis moves away from the natural tension of the situation, and makes the whole thing about petty backstabbing and complicated betrayals.
When director Ric Roman Waugh – who made awesome actioners Greenland and Shot Caller – lets the tense situation speak for itself, the film really finds grounding.
Main stars Stephan James and J.K. Simmons give admirable, nuanced performances. It’s unbelievable that the former, known for If Beale Street Could Talk and Race, hasn’t become a marquee star yet. He’s an absolutely fantastic performer.
The supporting cast is huge, and includes Lil Rey Howery, Alexander Ludwig, Timothy Olyphant, Kristin Chenoweth, Jeffrey Donovan, Andrew Bachelor and Tim Blake Nelson.
Despite pretty outlandish roles, it’s Orange Is The New Black’s Uzo Aduba and comedian David Koechner who stand out in the supporting cast.
The main issue with it is the film goes in about eight different directions. If the narrative had’ve stayed focused, maybe this one would have turned out better.
It’s a well-acted mess of ideas, but it’s hard not to love the scenery-chewing talent on-hand.