More than half a decade on, the surreal drama of “Deflategate” continues to recede further and further into America’s cultural history. For a certain subset of New England sports fans, however, its memory still carries a sting as bitter as the winters that have steeled their souls.
The documentary Four Games In Fall is a tonic for those very people, who in 2015 saw their beloved, unprecedented NFL dynasty, and the incandescent career of their eternal golden boy quarterback, Tom Brady, shamed and disgraced by accusations of unsportsmanlike behavior and blatant dishonesty. Filmmaker Julie Marron asks the question that still smolders through the consciousness of Patriot Nation: were the multiple Super Bowl-winning team, and especially Brady himself, unfairly targeted by a league that, for its own highly questionable purposes, seemed dead-set on dulling the luster of one of its brightest stars?
According to Four Games In Fall, the answer is yes, and how. But while there’s little question as to Marron’s perspective, the film is no simpleminded pro-Patriots rant a la sports talk radio. Instead, it draws upon the analysis of a number of scientific and legal minds – many of whom freely admit to being longtime haters of the Patriots organization – to make a case against junk science, corporate greed, and media sensationalism that’s as convincing and logical as it is infuriating. Love or hate Brady, the Pats, or the dubious empire that is professional football, it’s tough to come away from the movie feeling as if justice has, in any sense, been served.
“…were the multiple Super Bowl-winning team, and especially Brady himself, unfairly targeted…”
The documentary is an obviously low-budget undertaking, lacking access to a lot of the key personalities and illustrative broadcast material that its narrative centers on. The Patriots are represented mostly by their team lawyer, Daniel Goldberg, and a handful of “homers” like Barstool Sports correspondent Jerry Thornton; Brady and head coach Bill Belichick only hover around the margins in this telling of what is, primarily, their story. That grassroots approach also means that Four Games In Fall lacks the polished, prestige-television feel that characterizes superlative sports docs like ESPN’s 30 For 30 series.
What stands in for big names and burnished cinematography, though, is a compelling and very lucid breakdown of “Deflategate” and the surprisingly large number of investigative and legal inconsistencies that linger just beneath the reported facts in the affair. After briefly celebrating the ideal of fair play in athletic competition, the film provides an efficient recap of the events and the controversy that’s just informative enough to get even non-sports fans up to speed on how it all played out.
In short: following a Brady interception by Indianapolis Colts linebacker D’Qwell Jackson in the 2014 AFC Championship Game, the Super Bowl-bound Patriots were accused of having air pressure bled from their game balls by team employees – potentially making the balls easier to grip and, thus, giving the QB and his receivers an unfair advantage over the opposing team. What followed was a heavily publicized investigation by the NFL that, eventually, ensnared Brady alongside the overall Patriots organization. Much legal wrangling and media back-and-forth ensued, the ultimate result of which was the Patriots incurring a hefty fine and a loss of two 2016 draft picks – as well as Brady being suspended for the first four games of the 2016 regular season; hence the title.
"…just like any good legal drama, a compelling villain soon begins to emerge..."