Glory Road

Disney and producer Jerry Bruckheimer are making a cottage industry in inspirational sports movies. The reason they keep making them is that people keep going to see them. They are all true stories, and when done correctly, are great audience pleasers. Glory Road is one of these. The movie traces the travail of a small Texas college basketball coach as he blazes a path in the NCAA - he was the first coach to start five African-American players in NCAA championship history. It seems so alien, especially in today's game, but this was the case only forty years ago. Don Haskins (Josh Lucas, An Unfinished Life, Stealth) was recruited by Texas Western, a small mining college in El Paso, in order to produce a winning basketball team. Before this, he coached high school women's basketball.

Haskins finds his ability to recruit stifled by a severe lack of funds. He wants to build a winning team, so he begins recruiting the students nobody else will touch - blacks. He cobbles together seven black recruits from all over the country, much to the chagrin of the other players, the recruits themselves, and the booster club, which is aghast. The first half of Christopher Cleveland's script is about everybody adjusting to each other. Yes, Glory Road is Coach Carter mixed in with Remember the Titans. Haskin forces them to give up all of their showboating and focus on fundamentals. He creates a strict regimen of practice and discipline, forgoing things like alcohol, parties, and girlfriends. The players do not realize it, but they are getting better, and everybody is learning to work as a team.

The second half is the amazing winning streak that leads up to winning the 1966 NCAA tournament (come on, it's not a secret). The team really comes together when Bobby Joe Hill (Derek Luke, Friday Night Lights, Spartan) convinces Haskins to let the black players deviate from the "fundamentals of basketball." They are used to a looser style of playing, and once in their element, the winning margins increase. The styles mesh, and the underdogs surprise everybody, gaining fans and enemies as the season progresses. Same story as every other sports movies, but director James Gartner hits all of the right notes. He keeps the pace moving quickly. Some of the games are seconds, with the scores flashed over quick newspaper articles. The only time he slows down is for the character development.

Gartner and Cleveland make sure that all of the players are different people. They don't all mesh into "the black players" All Hill wants to do is play basketball, and this is his chance to do so. David Lattin (Schin A.S. Kerr) is the imposing center who also has a huge chip on his shoulder. Forward Nevil Shed (Al Shearer, Honey, How High) is good at the game, but doesn't go all out in his effort. Willie Cager (Damaine Radcliff, Marci X) is very good, but also has a medical condition. White player Jerry Armstrong (Austin Nichols) has never seen a black man before, and isn't too sure how to act. Gartner spends some time with each player, and the payoff comes at the end when the viewer realizes that each person's attitude towards race is changing. For them, reaching the finals becomes something much more than a game of basketball. They realize the trail that they are blazing, up against Kentucky's basketball dynasty, led by a sniveling Adolph Rupp (an almost unrecognizable Jon Voight, National Treasure, Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2). The racism is a bit more overt than in some of the other movies, which really helps the story. It allows the audience to empathize with what the players are going through, and this is what really makes Glory Road works. The viewer suffers with the characters through their lows, and soars with them on their highs.

Haro Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 46 minutes, Rated PG for racial issues including violence and epithets, and momentary language.

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