ESPN isn't just the place to go for sports broadcasts anymore. Every now and then they explore the entertainment side of things and air a made for TV movie, which often have mixed results. The latest such endeavor to be released on DVD is Code Breakers which aired back in December of 2005.
The film follows the exploits of the 1950's cheating scandal that rocked West Point and the Army's football team. While some of the movie focuses on the field the bulk of it takes place within the class rooms where student soldiers were passing out the answers to tests on various subjects. This was all done in an effort to keep the football team together but needless to say the ends don't justify the means. Unfortunately this activity extended beyond the definition of cheating. It broke the Army's code of honor and was grounds for big time dishonorable discharge.
Early on in the film things seem to be like you'd expect in a movie steeped in football. Coach Blaik (Scott Glenn) is a hard-ass among hard-asses. He expects nothing less from his players than excellence and above all else he demands that they crush the opposing Navy team. The only real obstacle in Blaik's way is the fact that much of his team is having a tough time with their school work. All of that practice and a study time is really starting to catch up to them; especially George Holbrook (Jeff Roop) seemingly more than others.
Holbrook is up late cramming and up early for football so he doesn't find a lot of time in between to concentrate more on studying. He is eventually lured in by the promise of guaranteed success and overcomes his hesitation about doing the right thing. Before long he starts climbing that slippery slope and gets in over his head. The way their little scam works is that if one member has a class before another and takes a test he copies down the questions and answers to supply it to the rest of the group. It seems foolproof right? Wrong!
At first Holbrook finds himself liking the idea but when he can't get answers to a particular test and the Army team loses to the Navy he has second thoughts. After being threatened about leaving he sticks through with it and eventually offers the same type of help to his friend and roommate Brian Nolan (Zachery Bryan). Unlike Holbrook, Nolan's conscience and sense of honor get the better of him and he reports the cheaters to the appropriate authorities. An investigation then begins that requires Nolan to go undercover in order to roust the guilty parties out of the school and the armed forces.
As part of a history lesson and dramatic tale, Code Breakers tells an interesting story. The conflict between the Army and Navy football may not be what it once was, but taking the trip back to the point in time when it was something more was entertaining. Set along with the backdrop of the Korean War this film raises more questions about ethics, integrity, and honor than it does bombard you with time on the field.
Movies based on true events are often hard to portray but Code Breakers does a decent job of it. The outcome is predictable if you know the history of what happened here though for the average current ESPN viewer this is probably the first time hearing about it. The acting is strong with some emotional performances but some of the finer points of drama in the script get lost along the way. There is quite a bit of clutter and some characters are never really developed to a point that their motives are understood. Don't write this film off as a story merely about football because there's a lot more going on here.
Code Breakers is presented on DVD with an anamorphic widescreen transfer. The video quality is very good with some fine saturation, clean imagery, and sharp visuals. At a few times during the viewing some compression artifacts become noticeable along with a couple bouts of edge enhancement. The video can get a little soft at times too but it's really nothing to complain about in the end.
Disappointingly the only audio available on this disc is in the form of 2.0 Dolby Digital stereo. For what it's worth the quality is fair but with the lack of channels and separation things are very underwhelming. The balance between music and dialogue is fair though the beautiful soundtrack impresses the most. Overall there's just nothing to impressed by here even though the track is without technical flaw.
A collection of six deleted scenes are included with an introduction regarding what you're about to see. The scenes themselves are decent but it's easy to see why they were omitted after hearing the reason. "On the Set: Code Breakers" is an ESPN documentary that takes you behind the scenes during the film's production with the cast and crew. Running at 23 minutes this particular feature was more interesting than others of this nature.
"Brave Old Army Team: The History of Army Football" was a fascinating feature with commentary by Buzz Aldrin, Norman Swartzkoff, and many other graduates from West Point. This particular documentary takes a historical look at Army Football and the scandal that ripped West Point apart. This wasn't so much a comparison of the film but more of a look at footage and the events of what really happened. Some more features on this disc include a look at the 2001 season of Army/Navy football and some of the recent graduating classes. Director Rod Holcomb also chimes in for an audio commentary but since he is the only commentator it's a little drier than most. He does add some personal insight into the project though and dishes out some interesting information.
I have to admit that I'm not a big viewer of ESPN. For whatever reason I'm just not hardcore when it comes to sports and I hold only a passing interest for many of these pastimes. That's probably why I enjoyed Code Breakers more than I thought I was going to. The movie focuses more on the scandal that rocked West Point and Army Football rather than what happens on the field. The cast was well picked and G. Ross Parker's script has enough weight to it to make an entertaining watch. If you enjoy military history or have seen other ESPN features you'll definitely want to check this one out.