Director: James Gartner
Cast: Josh Lucas, Derek Luke, Austin Nichols, Mehcad Brooks, Alphonso McAuley, Damaine Radcliff, Sam Jones III, Schin A. S. Kerr, James Olivard, Evan Jones, Red West, Emily Deschanel, Tatyana Ali, Jon Voight
MPAA Rating: (for racial issues including violence and epithets, and momentary language)
Running Time: 1:46
Release Date: 1/13/06
Review by Mark Dujsik
Glory Road opens on an odd note telling us that the movie is based on a true story "of the winning team that changed basketball forever." Clearly, it's simply not enough to tell us a movie is based on or inspired by actual events, but we must also have a generalized statement explaining why the story is important before we even see why or if it is. I suppose in the world of sports, the 1965-66 Texas Western University basketball team's win of the NCAA championship game with a team of all African-American players is a defining moment, and it certainly is important within the social context for the time. Glory Road, though, is yet another in a string of inspiring true stories told with as little inspiration as possible. Has the industry become so numb that it can box inspiration up in formula packages that look and feel almost identical to each other with only different labeling? The fact is critiquing movies like this is easy—too easy. Since it is born of formula so is my method. All such movies end with a big game, and the main question is, does everything that comes beforehand get me involved in said game? With Glory Road, the answer is, not really.
It's 1965 in Texas, and Don Haskins (Josh Lucas) is coaching a local high school girls' basketball team to victory. His motivation style of confused analogies is summed up when he shouts to the team, "You're playing like a bunch of girls!" In other words, it's the kind of forceful drilling and mentoring that, if not for the fact that he's in charge and could have you run the court for an hour, would get a couple of laughs in his face. Anyway, he's scouted by Texas Western to coach the university basketball team, and the honor of coaching Division I basketball comes with having to live with his wife Mary (Emily Deschanel) and kids in the men's dorm. The school's primary sports focus is football, so recruiting funds are quite low. This sends Haskins out to Gary, Indiana and his assistant Moe (Evan Jones) to New York City to find street players—all African-American—looking for a chance for higher education and to play at the NCAA level. The decision, of course, is intensely controversial, turning heads among the administrative powers-that-be and the entirely white team. For Haskins, though, it simply means prepping the team to play by the basics—a fundamental, defensive game.
For us, this means scene after scene of Haskins' players trying to find their groove and Haskins yelling at them to find it. Haskins tells his players to focus entirely on basketball and to abstain from booze and women and keep up with their schoolwork, so of course, Willie Worsley (Sam Jones III) gets his fellow team members to go out to a bar where Bobby Joe Hill (Derek Luke) meets a girl named Tina (Tatyana Ali). One player's mother shows up to keep him on track with his school work, and Jerry Armstrong (Austin Nichols), the one white player in which the movie shows more than passing interest, has a struggling relationship with his father at home. These scenarios are the extent of character development leading us into the season, and for the rest of the movie, screenwriters Christopher Cleveland, Bettina Gilois, and Gregory Allen Howard do little to expand even on these basic situations. Even Coach Haskins, who provides the entry point into the story, is little more than a caricature of the tough but inspirational coach, and his wife—a typically thankless role in such movies to begin with—simply appears briefly in scenes to look concerned, supportive, or a combination of the two.
These less-than-basic characters are supposed to act as the human connection to the story once the season starts, but thankfully, the larger social picture of the time helps to develop some interest in it. The movie operates with a certain appreciated level of reality. Coming onto the court, the players find themselves covered in concessions from the crowd. In one far more intense sequence of events, one of the players is viciously attacked in the bathroom of a diner during a break from a road game, and upon arriving at their motel room, the black players find racial epithets written on the walls and their possessions covered—both in blood. These are fairly simple gestures, but they manage to convey the times in that region and connect us a bit more to the team, just in time, incidentally, for their big game. The movie's best scene, though, is a bit more complex and finds the team in the locker room after an embarrassing defeat that keeps them from an undefeated season. After the attack and threats from the outside, the African-Americans on the team start to look at their white teammates with the same eyes, and the scene is more honest than one would expect from something that has played so conventionally up until that point.
Then the final game comes, and all of Glory Road's flaws have amassed, keeping us out of involvement because we know so little about these characters beyond what they stand for in the bigger picture. Director James Gartner films the game scenes with the same flashy editing we've come to expect, and the movie feels just like every other inspirational sports story that's come out in the last few years. Such a shame, too, because after the initial roll of credits, there are some interview clips with the players and Haskins, and what they have to say makes me think there's a lot more to the story than what we see here.
Copyright © 2006 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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