Sports is a factor in movies that paves the way for thrilling drama. It calls in an array of excitement and imagination for young and old alike. Sequences are often displayed just as fast-paced as one might see on television. Pressure and competition make for clever cinema achievements. At the same time, the characters become involved with personal struggles. How the action translates off the field is a challenge for each actor and filmmaker. Viewers crave the right balance between social life and athletic life. The difference in making this a successful type of film is where a larger scope of realizations takes place.
All The Right Moves was released in the fall of 1983 and helped catapult the career of Tom Cruise. He made his film debut just two years prior with a small role in Endless Love. Taps came out right after that and gave audiences an intriguing presentation, but the film adaption of the S.E. Hinton novel, The Outsiders, had Cruise on the map and high on the list for future entertainment.
Craig T. Nelson is the main lead opposite Tom Cruise and he is best known for his recurring roles in the TV shows Coach and My Name Is Earl. He also had a star performance in Poltergeist (1982) and its sequel four years later. His presence in All The Right Moves was one of toughness and vulnerability. Lea Thompson lends a delicate voice of reason and amorous affection as the significant other to the character of Cruise. She is best known for the mother of Marty McFly in Back To The Future (1985) and an unexpected love interest in Howard The Duck (1986). Chris Penn, the now-deceased brother to actor Sean Penn, has a critical role of close friend and teammate of Tom Cruise. He would star in the art house dance hit, Footloose, one year later. He achieved a memorable turn as the dark counterpart to Clint Eastwood in Pale Rider (1985).
All The Right Moves opens up with adventures of high school life in a town called Ampipe, Pennsylvania. The real location for this territory was in another Pennsylvania town knows as Johnstown. That particular spot was the inspiration for the Bruce Springsteen song, The River, because it was where a steel plant [Johnstown Company] had been forced to shut down. The major recession of the 1980s had an equal impact on the song and the film backdrop. Most in Ampipe are hard workers with little hope to give them a sense of financial security. It is a blue collar town where most generations of families live and remain. The thought of breaking out and getting out is almost a sign of personal betrayal to the community. At the same time, there is a desire for some to obtain a better life and find a grander existence in which to submit their energies to. This conflict is at the core of the film from start to finish.
Cruise plays Stefan Djordjevic, a popular defensive back for the high school football team. Stefan is fun-loving and good-hearted both as a son and as a player. He is happy in love with dating relationship to Lisa Liezke (played by Thompson). Lisa holds a feisty charm and an independent manner. Both want to make their relationship work through college. The idea is that if any person leaves the town they will start a new life, and the couple does not want to see plans for their future destroyed. However, Stefan is anxious to see himself get a college scholarship to a prestigious football program. His athletic talents are solid and his grades are strong. There remains talk of a good chance for the player to reach his goal.
Coach Nickerson (played by Nelson) is a commanding force of dominant leadership. He wants to see his team win at all costs and accomplishment recognition by others. The level of respect he can find by winning is one in which that satisfies his dreams. Yet the one obstacle to this vision is the man himself: he is stubborn and insists all his calls are right to be made.
The action reaches a high point when the Ampipe team faces off with Walnut Heights High. The adversary is undefeated and well-prepared. The home team actually has a chance in winning, but significant mistakes destroy those chances. A fumble occurs and Ampipe loses the ball. Stefan also caused a pass interference. Nickerson is furious and afterwards lashes out at the one who dropped the ball. He declares that he let down all of his men and calls him a quitter. Stefan is watching and disturbed by the whole encounter. Suddenly he steps forward and turns the tables on his coach. Stefan reminds Nickerson that he was a quitter on the team by making a bad call for them during one of the plays. All around are stunned and silent by this outright display of rebellion. Nickerson does not take kindly to his player chastising him and proceeds to kick him off the team.
Dejected in pride and purpose, Stefan concentrates his energies on school. He believes that what he has done in his life so far has made a difference. A chance to expand and start over is his mission. Lisa is supportive but feels a sense of strain in the relationship as her boyfriend soon starts to grow tense and frustrated. He misses the team and wants to get back in, but the coach refuses even after a clear apology. Meanwhile, another player, Brian (played by Penn) discovers that his girlfriend is pregnant and he will have to settle down. Penn and Cruise both reveal deep emotions of fear as they hold this discussion in which they both know that things are never going to be the same. Stefan is supportive to Brian as he prepares to take responsibility and acknowledge his circumstances to other loved ones.
The Ampipe crowd remains offended by the loss against Walnut and the subsequent dismissal of Stefan. To them the team is now at a lesser position, and a circumstance they will not recover from. They blame the coach for all of it and stage a plot for revenge. A large group shows up at the Nickerson household and trashes it along with the yard. Stefan arrives at the scene but does not want to participate in the actions. Unfortunately, Nickerson arrives at the door and spots his former player in front of his eyes. As a result, it is Nickerson who goes out to make revenge. He blames Stefan for everything that was vandalized and concludes he had a central role in its planning. He proceeds to get him blacklisted from most colleges by conjuring up the image of Stefan being a reckless, thoughtless young man with an attitude problem. Stefan tries multiple ways to get into various colleges, but the blacklisting stretches a long reach. Stunned and frightened, Stefan laments his predicament and grows further apart from Lisa.
The conclusion of the film holds a surprising outcome. Nickerson and Stefan manage to make peace in an unusual way. Lisa goes out on a limb and meets with the wife of the coach. The two take a walk with the gloomy backdrop of Ampipe behind them. Lisa appeals to an aura of compassion and understanding. She explains that her boyfriend is virtually homeless because all of his dreams now are stunted. She reiterates the truth: Stefan did not cause the attack on the Nickerson but instead tried to prevent it. The wife is not persuaded at first but comes around when the love-stricken girl appeals to her as her only chance forward. The wife points out that even if Stefan’s reputation is restored she will lose him when he goes out of town. Lisa shrugs the concerns off and says that personal happiness for her beloved is what matters most to her.
The wife immediately goes to her husband and asks him to come around. Reluctant and still hurting, Nickerson relents and decides to remedy the situation. In a gripping confrontation sequence, Nickerson and Stefan meet outside in the city streets. Stefan scolds his former coach for possessing an aura of arrogance and entitlement in his position. He storms off before the coach has a chance to say any important words.
All The Right Moves ends in a favorable light when Nickerson visits Stefan at work. The former athlete is part of the same steel mill where he hoped would not be his future. Stefan is annoyed once again and starts to offer resistance, but Lisa is on hand and begs her boyfriend to listen to reason. The coach is in an attitude of good faith and apologizes to his star pupil. The two make peace and agree to move on. Nickerson tops the moment by letting Stefan know that he has accepted a chief coaching position for the football team at a California university. He tells the defensive back that he wants his skills and presence in there. He feels he needs the player at his side and produces a bit of paperwork: a contract to accept a full scholarship to attend. Realizing that Nickerson has had a definite change of heart, an elated Stefan signs the document and embraces his girlfriend.
Production and filming of this motion picture was simple yet grim. There was a dark vibe in the atmosphere that mirrored the difficult economic circumstances. Music featured several 80’s themes and scores, including the minor hit and title track by Jennifer Warnes. The cast was every bit as driven as the characters they portrayed; much was on the line in the events and in the end it all turned out positive. The film deserves praise for creating a sports drama combined with a slice of youth losing their innocence. Dialogue was intelligent and remains relevant to today’s language.
I recommend this thoughtful film for its adventurous nature and tender coming of age.
Movie: All The Right Moves
Director: Michael Chapman
Cast: Tom Cruise, Lea Thompson, Craig T. Nelson, Chris Penn
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Running Time: 91 minutes
Brian’s Rating: 5-of-5 stars