Being someone who is a self affirmed sports nut, as my TV stays locked on ESPN and other sports events (love my hometown Pistons, Tigers, Lions, Wolverines, and Red Wings), and being that I’ve seen many a sports film, my discerning eye easily spots the pretenders from the contenders.
Bottom line, effective in drama and straightforward in storyline, Glory Road, a tale of the trials and tribulations of the unheralded, giant killer 1966 NCAA national champion Texas Western Miners men’s basketball team is definitely a contender.
Much like Remember The Titans where the use of true life social/political dynamics of the time helped drive the story of a
Where Titans was based in high school on a lesser stage nationally,
The somewhat amazing fact is obviously surprising but not entirely earth shattering. What is earth shattering is here you had an unheralded, small Division I school with for the first time five black starters playing against hoops legend Adolph Rupp’s (Jon Voight in a Ali-like swift and sweet appearance) perennial powerhouse and all-white Kentucky team (NBA Miami Heat’s coach Pat Riley was a key player).
A meeting of two basketball minds, if you will, two schools of thought and style - and it forever changed the game. And to this day, it's considered by many to be the biggest sports upset of all time.
After a touchingly nostalgic black and white montage punctuated by photographers' flashes, we open in the hot dusty world of
It’s a start and this is exactly the reason he eagerly accepts the meager conditions and lowly offer to coach the financially strapped athletic program of the
Knowing football is king in
Yet its on the recruit trail where Haskins shows his true moxie, whether its scouting talent in pool halls of Chicago, at the steel mills of Gary, Indiana, or sending assistants on hazardous outings to the South Bronx, New York, Haskins leaves no stone unturned.
Throughout this hard work and promises of a better life and plenty of playing minutes, we begin to get a bit of insight into the young men who will form Haskins’ team. Unlike the tough luck kids of Sunset Park or Coach Carter, each player here has their own varied background. And although there are no breakout performances here amongst the players, they all bring some uniqueness to each role. Red West’s performance as the team manager/“spiritual advisor” is especially noteworthy.
After Haskins assembles the raw but talented motley collection of “ballers“, the journey of shaping a team begins. This brings expected but unwanted heat upon the team from within and without. In a strong note of realism and clarity, white players on the team before the black players’ arrival, whose playing time is being infringed upon, struggle with their new roles. Later on, outside forces in the form of local alumni boosters express grave concerns about the team Haskins is assembling.
Commendably Haskins cares less about the color of the player’s skin than, in a theme reminiscent of present New York Knicks coaching legend Larry Brown, that the players “play the right way”. In this case, Haskins’ creed and motto of - no street ball histrionics and strong fundamental offensive and defensive technique achieved through intense practices. Of course, only the brash, party boy, point guard Bobby Joe Hill (Derek Luke) has the guts and leadership qualities to later on force Haskins to awaken from out of his slumber, and let the players bring a little street ball to his style.
Throughout the journey up the unbeaten team rankings, as the team succeeds, the obstacles are swiftly knocked down as they arise, and racial issues rear an ugly head throughout the film‘s final sequences.
Without the social ramifications the film has all the tenets of many a basketball film - with the addition of succinctly defined characters in a solid ensemble cast of mostly unknowns (especially to the average movie public unless you’re fans of Josh Lucas (Wonderland) or Derek Luke (Biker Boyz)). The at times gritty and stylized visual framework excites when needed, particularly during the championship game when the players exuberantly celebrate and walk off the court, punctuated by a torrent of photographers’ flashing bulbs captured in an impeccably distilled moment.
Most of the film plays in swift stroke shorthand with taut dramatic clarity from scene to scene. The dialogue is especially spot on in most situations helping to pace the film gingerly like a half-court press. Very few times does the film stumble. A funny scene in
For those who belabor the heavy-handed approach and embellishment of facts, since the film pushes its inspirational message beneath Motown driven tunes and racial clashes, tell me a "based on a true story" film that doesn't play with facts. To overly criticize this inescapable necessity is like complaining about the violence in a horror film.
With a unified structure and well-written scenes, although nothing ground breaking in terms of film dynamics, Glory Road is a standard bearer for all that works in a sports movie, and like Bull Durham, Titans, North Dallas Forty, and Hoosiers, will define the genre.
Not only in storyline, but also visual dynamics,
Though I’m more partial to Rudy, the football film from the same team behind Hoosiers, director David Anspaugh and writer Angelo Pizzo, Hoosiers is a film well documented for its popularity amongst sports films/fans, but in particular with white audiences. The story resonates with white audiences in a way I’m sure Glory Road, the story of a small, unheralded 1960s integrated Texas basketball college team who takes the winner-take-all NCAA championship with the help of a tough minded younger coach, will resonate with African-American audiences.
Regardless, while Remember The Titans and Hoosiers feel epic in scope, this story is rather compact and at times, a more compelling story, especially during the film’s emotionally expressive coda showing what the team meant to the sleepy town of
At the screening I attended, deceased point guard Bobby Joe Hill’s family was strong in attendance as he was from the
Certainly a cut above such weaker basketball films like Blue Chips,
© by Julian Boyance, completed January 12th, 2006
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