The film's tagline "Champions can come from anywhere" is exactly the story of McFarland, USA. This sports drama film directed by Niki Caro and produced by Walt Disney Pictures. Based on the true story of a 1987 cross country coach and his team from a predominantly Mexican-American high school, McFarland High School, in McFarland, California. It follows the struggling coach and teacher who has been had to move around for different incidents in his career finally comes to one of the poorest cities in America. There he discovers buried potential among several high school boys and slowly turns them into championship runners and brings them closer than even he could ever imagine.
In a Running Times interview, coach Jim White disclosed that he started the McFarland Cross Country program in 1980. He said that the first state meet wasn’t until 1987 and McFarland did win, but the movie changed the timing up so that it all happened at once. There were also a lot more than seven kids on the team. Plus, the courses weren’t quite like they were on-screen. The school's unprecedented 24-year streak of attending the State Championship meet ended while the film was in production after the small school was elevated to Division I to compete against schools with more than 2.5 times its enrollment (a byproduct of their success)
The film stars Kevin Costner, Mario Bello, Carlos Pratts, Johnny Ortiz, Hector Duran, Sergio Avelar, Michael Aguero, Rafael Martinez and Ramiro Rodriguez. The cast gave exceptional performances despite having some cliches associated with inspiring sentimental sport dramas.
It may not break new ground, but McFarland USA is a somewhat entertaining film, awash in clichés but leavened by the charismatic performance of Kevin Costner as Jim White. Pleasant to a fault, the film is a middle-of-the-plate race that coasts on Kevin Costner's considerable charm without adding any truly original curves to Disney's inspirational sports formula. Though, at some fault, it's a well produced addition to the Disney sports movie canon that works as both a stirring underdog tale. In addition, it put across the movie's many cliches with a certain verve, and find room for somewhat unexpected detours and grace notes in an overall familiar trajectory. Dutifully covering all the requisite inspirational sports movie/fish-out-of-water bases yet still managing to throw a few fresh curves into the mix, the film barely makes it to the finish line. When it's good it's good. When it's bad - well, it's bad. It may seem that the film takes too long to get to the race. But by the time it does get down to it, we've invested enough in the cast to give a damn about the outcome of the all-important Big Show. The film is a Walter Mitty tale, but a true one, a fantasy come to life. The latest in Disney's line of films about real-life sports figures never settles for easy answers. It is a well-made studio entertainment that, like The Rookie (2004) of a few years back, has the knack of being moving without shamelessly overdoing a sure thing.