National Champions Trailer: Stephan James Takes A Stand Against J.K. Simmons And The NCAA

Golden Globe nominee Stephan James ("If Beale Street Could Talk," "21 Bridges") and Oscar winner J.K. Simmons of "Whiplash" go head-to-head in college sports drama "National Champions," and it looks intense.

James plays LeMarcus James, a star quarterback who launches a players strike just hours before the national title game, which happens to be the biggest game of the year, in order to leverage demands for fair compensation for the college student-athletes who make tons of money for their schools. It turns out it's all fun and games until the coach's salary is at stake.

National Champions Trailer

I'm a sucker for behind-the-curtain sports films. Despite knowing nothing about baseball beyond the basics that "The Sandlot" taught me, I kept up with and thoroughly enjoyed Bennett Miller's bean-counting, pencil-pushing drama "Moneyball," mostly due to Aaron Sorkin's writing and a few stellar performances from Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Once again, I know nothing about college football and player dynamics beyond a few articles about concussions in the NFL, but "National Champions" appears to lay it all out and simply tells a compelling story.

Casting-wise, there are a handful of names that, if on the marquee, guarantee that I'll check out their respective movie. "National Champions" features a Murderer's Row of them, to include America's Disappointed Dad J.K. Simmons, the formidable Uzo Aduba ("In Treatment"), and Tim Blake Nelson ("The Ballad of Buster Scruggs"), all playing slick-suited, salaried antagonists, it appears. As the COVID-19 pandemic lays bare the many uneven power dynamics in the U.S., and as we see more and more skilled workers unwilling to tolerate these dynamics any longer (at least, not for peanuts), more of these stories will come down in a stark reflection of the changing landscape.

Directed by Ric Roman Waugh ("Shot Caller") and written by Adam Mervis in an adaptation of his own play of the same name, "National Champions" is produced by Basil Iwanyk and Brendon Boyea under Iwanyk's Thunder Road banner and with Greg Economou under Iwanyk's sports-centric label game1. STX distributes the film.

Here's the official synopsis:

Three days before the college football national championship game, star quarterback LeMarcus James (James) and teammate Emmett Sunday (Alexander Ludwig) ignite a player's strike declaring they won't compete until all student-athletes are fairly compensated. With billions of dollars at risk and legacies on the line, the stakes could not be higher. Now, with only hours until kickoff, the head coach (Simmons) and various power brokers (Lil Rel Howery, Tim Blake Nelson, Andrew Bachelor, Jeffrey Donovan, David Koechner, Kristin Chenoweth, Timothy Olyphant, Uzo Aduba) must race against the clock.

"National Champions" arrives in theaters on December 10, 2021.