The 5th Quarter (2010)
“From the ashes of great tragedy can come great achievement.”
Director: Rick Bieber
Cast: Andie MacDowell, Aidan Quinn, Ryan Merriman
Synopsis: Driven by the tragic and fatal car crash that took the life of his fifteen year old brother Luke, and wearing Luke’s number 5 jersey, Jon Abbate helps to lead the Wake Forest Demon Deacons to the most successful season in school history.
The 5th Quarter, a sports movie based on actual events, has all the basic ingredients required to concoct a life-affirming, inspirational tale of triumph over adversity: the loss of a much-loved son, the emotional trauma of the parents and siblings, and the strength they draw from the sympathy and support of a close-knit community, the decision to donate their son’s organs to save the lives of others. Unfortunately, these are the same ingredients which, in the hands of an insufficiently skilled chef, will result in a sickly sweet mess, which is what we have here. Writer and director Rick Bieber has to step forward here, in his hands The 5th Quarter is an overwrought, sentimental mess of a movie which, because of its lack of restraint, reduces the very real tragedy of the Abbate family to a succession of cloying vignettes.
Aidan Quinn and Andie MacDowell play Steven and Maryanne Abbate, the parents of Luke, a promising young football player who dies in a car crash shortly before his sixteenth birthday. Naturally, they and their surviving children are devastated, but they cope with their loss by donating their son’s organs to save the lives of five others. Jon (Ryan Merriman), Luke’s older brother, considers giving up football, but decides instead to continue in honour of his younger brother’s memory by claiming the number 5 shirt in which Luke used to play. In homage to Luke, Jon signals his family in the stands by holding up his hand with fingers outstretched, a gesture which is eventually adopted by both the fans and players of the team.
It’s a shame that The 5th Quarter is such a poor movie, because there’s no doubt that the Abbates, who established a foundation in their son’s name to educate young people about the dangers and consequences of reckless driving, are good, genuine people. But it’s doubtful that what we see on the screen is an accurate depiction of them. No people are so noble, even in times of unimaginable grief, and nobody talks in the cliche-laden dialogue Bieber places in their mouths. The quality of his writing struggles to come up to the standards of a TV movie of the week, and has no place in a movie aspiring to a theatrical release.
Perhaps a lot of scenes ended up on the cutting room floor, because too many of them go nowhere here. Characters are introduced, then disappear, never to be seen or heard from again. Conflicts and personal upheavals are briefly held up to the light before being summarily discarded. Moments of high emotion, which are of course necessary in a story of this nature, are destroyed by some terrible over-acting, particularly by Aidan Quinn who, as one of the more mature members of the cast, should really know better. But then, perhaps Bieber has trouble reining in actors in the same way that he struggles to restrain his own tendency for over-sentimentalising.