At InReview, we’re often sent review requests for short films, which usually fit into one of two categories: Short films that work perfectly as is, and those that seem to work as a proof of concept for a longer film. D. J. Hale’s “Lionheart” seems to fall into the latter.
The film follows Zac Mason (Hale), an undrafted rookie football player who was cut during preseason due to a catastrophic knee injury. He is also undersized, which leads to every team passing on him during the season. Zac trains every day, motivated not only by his trainers, but by his partner, Dani (Jenna Ross). After one year, he is finally given a shot to prove he’s worthy of playing professional football.
The scenario of this film is a strong one. Not only does Zac have to overcome being undersized — which isn’t a career-killer in the NFL, but is something to overcome — he got injured at perhaps the worst possible time — preseason, which makes him an unproven entity in the minds of many NFL coaches.
The film goes through some of Zac’s emotional turmoil, though it is hampered by wooden dialogue derived from a weak script. Hale and Ross nonetheless offer fine performances, there is just so much more that could have been done with this scenario, though I admit it would not all fit within the scope of a 20-minute short film.
This really feels like it should have been a feature film, and I think it has the potential to be a strong one given the right script. There is certainly enough material Hale and company could use, particularly the financial and emotional toll Zac would have to go through sitting out his “rookie” season.
For one, as a rookie who only played in the preseason, he would have made only $850 a week, and as such, Zac and Dani would have to figure something else out to financially stay afloat while Zac pursued his dream of breaking into professional football. This would put particular stress on Zac especially as the season came to a close, and the chances that he’d ever play again dimmed. The film mentions that he was a very good player in college, and missing an entire season this way would devastate him — how could he not feel the crushing weight of what must have been massive expectations?
One year’s time is also such a massive gap in the football world — maybe Zac would cave into pressure and get a job to make ends’ meet, while he split his free time training and spending time with Dani? Furthermore, as an undrafted rookie, it would have been hard enough for him to make it to an NFL team’s training camp in the first time — it would be extremely hard for him to make it onto a team’s radar after being sidelined for a year, with nothing but old college tape. Maybe after getting healthy, he eventually makes modest money playing in a more minor football league, like the USFL or the CFL, where he gets noticed. There’s also opportunity to make his rock bottom really hit hard — what if he didn’t even get invited to training camp in Year 2, and instead got his big break via a mid-season signing to replace an injured player, where he lights up the football field, proving everyone wrong?
There’s a lot you can do with this scenario, and I can’t help but think it is best realized in a feature film, which I hope the filmmakers pursue.