Disney’s latest sports-themed movie is “inspired” by the real-life story of Ray Ray McELrathBey, a former safety for the Clemson University football team. SAFETY is not only inspiring for what this young man accomplished, but also for the fact that he manages to convince his coaches and the administration at Clemson to approve his petition for a waiver from the NCAA.
Ray (Jay Reeves) begins his freshman year at Clemson on a football scholarship, already hamstringing himself by taking on 18 class credits. He’s determined to do his best he tells Kaycee Stone (Corinne Foxx) the beautiful sports journalism major he meets --- because he realizes there is life after football.
What Ray doesn’t know is that his mother has been arrested for possession back in Atlanta and his 11-year-old brother, Fahmarr or Fay (Thaddeus J. Mixson), is living with drug dealers. Instead of leaving him behind in foster care, Ray brings Fay back to school, hiding him in his dorm room and getting his roommate, Daniel (Hunter Sansone), also a football player, to help.
It seemed like a good idea at the time, but with classes, football practice and getting Fay to school on time --- and home again --- it all catches up with Ray. His performance on the field suffers and things are falling apart, so Ray finally tells his coaches. They find him and Fay an off-campus apartment and a part-time job for Ray, so things are finally coming together.
Kaycee convinces Ray to let her write his story for the school paper. This brings out the support of the entire Clemson community, but it also endangers the university and the football program due to the NCAA rules against accepting any financial help --- no matter how small. All this forces Ray to confront his future --- and his choices --- that of keeping Fay and quitting football and/or bucking the system.
SAFETY is a truly moving film, perfect for these times when many in this country reject the idea of Black Lives Matter. Ray McELrathBey could have easily turned his back on his brother and left him in foster care. Instead, he chose to become both parents to a little boy very much in need of love and attention. This is a smaller story than many of the other sports movies out there, but it’s no less important --- or compelling.
Reeves and Mixson are absolutely well matched. Reeves has some credits to his name and his performance here will catapult him to bigger things. Newcomer Mixson beat out a lot of other candidates for this role when he overwhelmingly impressed director Reginald Hudlin during his audition. If these two actors hadn’t exhibited the right chemistry, SAFETY would not have fared as well.
During this upcoming holiday season, when many people want to be with their families and they can’t --- or shouldn’t --- SAFETY is a good solid film for everyone to enjoy. Ray Ray and Fay’s true story is courageous, heartwarming --- and really funny at times --- that special movie for this special time of year.
Opening Dec. 11th on Disney+.
Opinion: See It Now!
Arriving perfectly to coincide with the end of the football season, Disney’s latest movie couldn’t come at a better time for everyone enduring the pandemic. Based on true events, it is the best “feel good” story in a long while. Cliched adjectives like “crowd pleaser” and “heartfelt” all apply to SAFETY, so you won’t see those used for the rest of this review.
I will say that SAFETY is a film that the whole family can embrace. In 2006, Ray McELrathBey was a 19-year-old freshman on a football scholarship at Clemson University in Greenville, South Carolina. Wearing uniform No. 9 as one of the team’s safeties, he takes on a large class load in addition to his extracurricular athletics.
But what is unique about Ray (aka “Ray-Ray”) is that he has an 11-year-old younger brother named Fahmarr or “Fay” living with their drug-addicted mother Tonya. When mom must enter rehab, it falls to Ray to protect Fay. This entails hiding his brother in his dorm on campus for 30 days without the knowledge of his coaches.
What makes SAFETY such an appealing and powerful film, besides the no-nonsense script, are the indelible performances from top to bottom. At the heart of the story is Jay Reeves. Playing the imminently likeable Ray, Reeves captures all the highs and lows a 19-year-old football star can possibly experience. Ultimately, he has to choose between his football career and the “free” college ride it entails versus caring for his beloved Fahmarr. It’s a dilemma that most of us will not have to confront, but Reeves’ extraordinary turn rouses our deep empathy.
SAFETY would likely fall flat if the filmmakers didn’t choose wisely for a young actor to play the younger brother. They found the right boy in Thaddeus J. Mixson. He and Reeves share an undeniable chemistry on screen, and although Fay is a mischievous brat in the beginning, we watch him mature and become a favorite “mascot” of the Clemson Tigers. One reason for that is because he espies a valuable tipoff by an opposing player while the team watches tapes of their next opponent.
The supporting cast features top-notch turns from a variety of actors: Corinne Foxx as Kaycee, a sports journalism major and supportive friend of Ray (who was added to the script as a fictional person in Ray’s life, and who also is the daughter of Jamie Foxx); Hunter Sansone as Ray’s roommate Daniel with whom Ray instantly bonds; his sympathetic coaches portrayed by Matthew Glave (head coach Tommy Bowden) and James Badge Dale (assistant Coach Simmons); Amanda Warren as Tonya whose role is brief but emotional; and Miles Burris as teammate “Killer” Ron Keller (Burris was an NFL linebacker with the Oakland Raiders, and watching him bench lift is proof enough).
There is even a very small supporting role by Brett Rice that deserves mentioning. Rice plays NCAA Compliance Board Chairman Gregory Diamond who must deliver the deciding vote in Ray’s plea for a waiver that could change the course of his life.
Director Reginald Hudlin, known for his 2017 movie MARSHALL starring the late Chadwick Boseman as Thurgood Marshall, the first Black justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, has fashioned the kind of crowd-pleasing and heartfelt story (sorry, couldn’t help myself) for which Disney is famous. And producer Mark Ciardi first learned of Ray’s story reading news articles and watching an episode of “Oprah” many years ago. Ciardi was so touched he never gave up on a film project to tell Ray’s story.
The football scenes shot for SAFETY took place at halftime of an actual Clemson game. The filmmakers were allowed about seven minutes to complete their mission and they managed to capture exciting game sequences in front of a crowd of 85,000 Clemson Tiger fans. SAFETY is not at all about winning or losing as you might expect in a sports film. It is much more than that and should not be missed.
Opening Dec. 11th on Disney+.
Opinion: See It Now!