Without too many spoilers, I will attempt to share the moving gist of the film “The Last Whistle.” From director Rob Smat, comes his first feature length film, starring Brad Leland (“Friday Night Lights”) as the proud Coach Vic, Jim O’Heir (“Parks and Recreation”) as Ted, the town’s observational bartender and makeshift therapist and Deanne Lauvin as the grieving Theresa Robinson.
“The Last Whistle” starts off like many other high school football flicks- the clock running out and the home team down a few points, and a miraculous, last gasp winner. But, the tone quickly changes into a much more somber, yet ultimately realistic atmosphere. The movie touches upon a topic seldom seen in sports movies. After a few players are late to practice (including the teams star player), Coach Vic decides it’s time to nip the irresponsibly in the bud and decides to punish the entire team with wind sprints. The atmosphere immediately shifts when the audience hears the pulsating of a throbbing, struggling heartbeat.
Then, in an instant, the teams star player Benny Robinson (Fred Tolliver Jr.) collapses and dies immediately. It is later revealed that Benny suffered from a rare condition of the heart called Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), a condition that causes the heart to pump blood less effectively, which can lead to sudden cardiac arrest.
As the movie states in its first few frames. This is not one person’s story, it is a widely encompassing tragedy that occurs all too often with no immune parties, and in the end who is really to blame. The movie is about the ephemerality of life and the precious nature of the relationships and bonds that that life represents.
“The Last Whistle” is labor of love, and a touching one at that. Even moving me close to tears by the end. Director Rob Smat made it clear that he wanted to stray away from other sports medicine films like the recent “Concussion,” and stated that getting the science right was paramount for he and his team, to really grasp the authenticity of an utterly misfortunate circumstance.
“I did not want to make a movie like ‘Concussion,’ where [the film] is really saying something about football, they’re really making a statement,” said Smat. “This condition effects all sports—it can really happen to anyone.”
“I think the emotions are very true in the movie, how, many patients are conditioned as Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. It is the most common, of a really fairly uncommon group of conditions which effect the heart. This particular one makes the heart grow in an uneven way and unfortunately the movie that we saw is very accurate, that the first presentation (of the condition) can be true death or a near death experience,” stated an expert from the American Heart Association.
While there were obvious budget constraints, director Rob Smat and his team masterfully got the most out their project. The cinematography by Brian Tang is top-notch, turning shots that would otherwise be mundane, into scenes of enchantment.
“The Last Whistle” is not perfect, but it doesn’t need to be to get its poignant message across. So much so, that some moments will still be reeling in your memory banks for weeks after watching.