Review: Sure, it's cookie-cutter heartfelt stuff, but the real story is great enough to keep it entertaining.
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It's no secret by now that Disney has developed a pretty successful formula for feel good sports movies. From Remember the Titans to Miracle and last year's The Greatest Game Ever Played, the big mouse house loves to retread that story of underdog triumph, be it on the field, ice, green or now the court. Their latest is entitled Glory Road. Like all the others, it's based on a true story, but this may be the best actual story of the bunch. It's so good in fact that it makes you wonder why it took 40 years to bring this story to the silver screen.
Josh Lucas stars as Hall of Fame coach Don Haskins. Back in 1966, Haskins was a respected but little-known coach. When he was first contacted by little known Texas Western, Haskins had most recently coached girls basketball. Jumping at the chance to coach Division 1 basketball, Haskins moved to Texas and took over the struggling team. In a town ruled by the pigskin, Haskins was given next to nothing to recruit, setting the hopes of a building a good team far away, much less a great one. Haskins took an unexpected route, scouring the country for African American players. At this point, each team had a few African Americans on the team, but any more than that was considered in poor taste. Beyond that, they were believed to be inferior athletes. Haskins brought in the best of the best, ignoring the talk that what he was doing was "wrong" and that these players simply could not beat talented white players. Haskins' assemblage was beyond good. They drove to a nearly undefeated season and shocked previously unbeatable Kentucky to take the 1966 National Championship. Haskins took things a step further for that final game, playing only his seven African American players during the game, benching his white players to make his point all the more loud and clear.
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Glory Road is directed by first-timer James Gartner. The supporting cast includes Jon Voight as Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp, Derek Luke as Bobby Joe Hill, Austin Nichols as Jerry Armstrong, Mechad Brooks as Harry Flourney, Jr., Alphonso McAuley as Orsten Artis, Damaine Radcliffe as Willie Cager, Al Shearer as Nevil Shed, Sam Jones III as Willie Worsely, Schin A.S. Kerr as David Latin, Kip Weeks as Togo Railey, Mitch Eakins as Dick Meyers, Alejandro Hernandez as David Palacio, James Olivard as Louie Boudoin, Evan Jones as Moe Iba, Red West as Ross More, Emily Deschanel as Mary Haskins and Tatyana Ali as Tina.
Lucas as Haskins
Glory Road is the kind of movie that audiences love and critics sneer at. The movie is well-made, well-acted and even well-directed. It's the originality factor that critics most crave and which subsequently takes a backseat in a movie like this. The story is from history, so it's hard to mess that up. The fact that this is such an amazing story, that simply competent execution is going to produce a result that will be suitable to most. There are lines of dialogue that feel as if they were pulled directly from previous films of similar variety. "I can't do it, coach!" "Yes you can son, just put your mind to it." Not an exact quote, but not far off. Still, the games are exceptionally well-shot and, even as you know exactly how it is going to play out, there is a tension that builds to a nice thrill as the expected result plays out before our eyes.
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Josh Lucas has teetered on the brink of stardom for a number of years now. Hulk wasn't the success most expect. Sweet Home Alabama did well but was panned critically. Stealth took a stab at turning Lucas into an action hero, but no one turned out to see it. Glory Road gives Lucas a chance to play up the drama, the excitement and a few laughs smattered within. Even when delivering dialogue so stale it feels to have come out of an automated inspiring dialogue machine, Lucas exhibits enough emotion and passion to cover it up. Lucas is really good here, and his performance is the backbone that keeps Glory Road from becoming utter trite.
The large supporting cast is well-chosen. You never get the idea that these guys are actors pretending to play ball. Many were chosen for their basketball abilities first and their acting abilities second. It shows and the on-court scenes are thrilling and believable. The standout is another near-breakout star, Derek Luke. The actor has admitted to hesitations to taking the role coming off another sports film, Friday Night Lights, but the more he learned of Texas Western's truly triumphant and important story, he realized he had to take the part. Luke is one of the best young actors out there and I continue to hope that he will soon land some meatier and more original parts. He was terrific in a little film called Pieces of April a few years back, but it was little seen.
The high-flying, slam-dunking Texas Western
Jon Voight, who is nearly always good, even in the cheesier variety of Bruckheimer action flicks, digs deep to nail the part of legendary Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp. Voight adapts a prosthetic nose to better resemble Rupp and gives a spirited performance as the unique coach. Rupp is the "villain," of the film, but his portrayal is one of the standout aspects that made me respect Glory Road. It would be easy enough to make Rupp into a hated villain. I figured at any moment Voight's Rupp would utter the dreaded "N" word, exciting the spewed venom of disgusted audience members. Heck, they made Max Baer into a villain in Cinderella Man even though the real man was nothing like this. That's what these kinds of movies do. They make the bad guy utterly unredeemable so that audiences never even consider his or her side of the story. Instead, Glory Road takes the high road, if you will. They don't necessarily paint Rupp as the nicest guy on the planet, but Gartner and the writers didn't feel the need to over-villainify him, a refreshing change over the normal tendency to re-write history whenever it's more convenient to the dramatic necessities of the film.
Glory Road is a good sports film. It plays out as you would expect, but it keeps you entertained along the way. The acting and direction is solid. The chemistry of the teammates feels real and their interactions are always entertaining and compelling. The film is by no means a classic, it's simply too mundane for that. Gartner plays it safe for the most part, but for a first feature with the mouse breathing down your neck, he doesn't fall into the trappings such a situation often yields. Audiences are going to like Glory Road and they are going to forget the specifics of the film very quickly. The standout is the true story of Texas Western, which Glory Road faithfully tells. It's an important part of the Civil Rights movement in America and a story few know. If the one thing audiences take away is the knowledge of what Texas Western did in 1966, then it has done its job.
*by by Jeff Otto, IGN.com
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