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Glory Road

2006-09-01 18:43


In 1965 Don Haskins (Josh Lucas) finally landed the position he had fought so hard for - basketball coach for a Division 1 college. It didn't matter that his team - the Western Texas Miners - were the poorest and weakest in the league, Haskins only cared about one thing - winning. It was this pig-headedness that drove him to offer scholarships to an unprecedented number of black players, many of whom had been ignored by colleges despite their skill. Though Haskins acted out of practicality - he needed raw talent, and he needed it cheap - his decision to play more than the "accepted" number of black players had wider social ramifications. History might have ignored Haskins if his gambit hadn't paid off, but, in the space of one incredible season, he and his Miners went all the way to the championship game against the all-conquering Kentucky Wildcats led by the legendary Adolph Rupp (Jon Voight).


On paper Glory Road reads like the most cliched sports movie ever made, but on screen it plays out as a likeable, sincere and occasionally gripping drama. The X factor here is that the story has an unmistakable ring of honesty to it. It's the kind of inspiring tale from which sports and civil rights movie cliches were originally extracted for repackaging by Hollywood. But what rounds it off that everyone involved seems to actually believe in the earnest mumbo-jumbo on which the plot is built.

Perhaps more surprisingly the project is headed up by mega-producer Jerry Bruckheimer, the man for whom the phrase "style over substance" was invented. A career packaging glossy rubbish like Pirates of the Caribbean and National Treasure doesn't lend itself to sincerity. Then again, Bruckheimer also produced the racially charged football drama Remember the Titans, so he isn't totally immune to his movies meaning something. What he is immune to is his movies failing. He knows that inspirational sports dramas sell particularly well when they have a socially significant angle.

Cynicism aside, it's hard not to get dragged along in the film's good-natured wake. Everyone on board - from the actors to the screenwriters - seems to really mean what they say. It helps that the cast is populated by unknowns and hard working B-listers like Josh Lucas and Derek Luke, and not prima donna stars. Though the performances are largely one-note, they are genial and sincere. A nearly unrecognisable Jon Voight stands out in his small role as the rival coach, and Lucas handles the lead with surprising skill. Derek Luke (Antwone Fisher) is a magnetic screen presence, and he makes the most of his role as the team's temperamental star.

The other advantage of having a talent-hound like Bruckheimer at the helm is that the film looks great. Recuited from a long career in advertising, first-time director James Gartner shows an impressive control over the visuals. With the help of his (two!) cinematographers, Gartners gives the film a golden patina that evokes the quasi-mythical atmousphere of '60s America. But the action sequences are the most impressive achievement, capturing the cut-and-thrust of the game without sacrificing the story. Of course it helps to have Oscar winner John Wright cutting your first film, not to mention production and costume design teams who are so talented that their work is invisible.

In the end though, this is still just a dumb and predictable basketball movie. The social messages are laudable and the emotions sincere, but cliches are still cliches. It's worth watching as an above average example of the genre, as well as for the limited historical interest, but you aren't going to see anything new here. Hey, at least it proves Jerry Bruckheimer has a heart, even if it's on loan from Don Haskins.

- Alistair Fairweather

The kind of earnest, good-natured sports movie that makes you wish that the "based on a true story" angle hadn't already been ruined by other films.

Superman 2006/06/13 8:57 PM
Add to the list... Add this movie to your list.. Glory Road, Remember the Titans, Varsity Blues, Friday Night Lights, The Replacements, Coach Carter and what was that ice-hockey movie of Kurt Russel called?
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