I know what you're thinking when it comes to "McFarland, USA."
"Another sports movie with Kevin Costner? I got tired of this in 1989 ("Field of Dreams") or 1996 ("Tin Cup") and I've certainly moved on in 2015."
It's an understandable reaction but it's also an injustice to a fine family drama that's as much about shattering racial stereotypes and presenting a positive image of immigrant life as it is about Costner's down-and-out football-turned-cross-country coach Jim White pushing his Hispanic runners in the small Northern California town of McFarland to achieve their potential.
Filmmaker Niki Caro ("Whale Rider") smartly downplays the forced inspirational element that has spurred a sense of fatigue when it comes to sports movies. Her focus instead shifts toward capturing the look and feel of this tiny, impoverished locale circa 1987, where the only tangible professional future seems to lie as a picker in the fields and a penitentiary menacingly looms across the street from the high school.
The team members, including three brothers and gifted speedster Thomas (Carlos Pratts), are well-rounded characters with tangible back stories that gain our empathy as humans rather than ciphers spurring the emotional development of their coach.