Through the Fire

With the ever-increasing number of feel-good sports movies, it's nice to see a documentary where the real players are shown in all their glory.  Through the Fire chronicles the last year in high school for Coney Island phenomenon Sebastian Telfair, it also touches (albeit lightly) upon some of the controversies surrounding the poaching of players from high school directly to the NBA, and the fickle nature of the press.  If director Jonathan Hock focused a bit more on the latter two, Through the Fire would have been a stronger documentary.  As it stands, the film is a bit different, because Hock balances the exuberance and victories with more somber emotions.  As with many documentaries, the choice of Telfair was extremely fortuitous.  After all, nobody expected him to go through what he did.

Basketball fans, especially those in the Portland area, will know exactly how the movie ends.  Even with this knowledge, Hock's editing and pacing is crisp and moves quickly.  Telfair is a quick, graceful player, and at 5'11", is considerably shorter than his peers.  There is plenty of thrilling high school basketball footage.  It's a telltale sign of how popular Telfair and his Lincoln High School team is when Jay-Z shows up to watch him play.  Ever since he was 6, Telfair was turning heads, and as point guard, helped his team win two championships.  As his senior year progresses, Lincoln racks up additional wins, and scouts appear with greater frequency.

The first part of the film deals with whether or not he should go directly to the NBA.  He is a good player, but as one person says, not a Kobe Bryant (who just scored 81 points in one game) or Lebron James.  People like that rarely come along.  Telfair's family is relatively poor.  Moreover, his older brother Jamel Thomas, once a promising NBA draft pick, had to settle for a professional league in Greece when the draft ignored him.  So Telfair can either reap a potential windfall of millions by jumping directly to the NBA, or get an education, hone is game, and potentially injure himself in college.  He chooses college, after Louisville coach Rick Pitino recruited him.  However, at every interview, the media persisted in asking him about going directly to the draft.  This continuous pressure, coupled with a new Addidas contract and some personal issues at home, eventually changed Telfair's mind, and he chose the NBA.  This is where things get interesting.  As soon as he made the decision, the very people that kept pestering him now spoke about how he wasn't ready.  Telfair was a rising star, now falling quickly.

Hock doesn't explore the ramifications of an early jump to the NBA, nor does he turn a critical eye towards the media.  Instead, this is more a chronological accounting of a year in the life of Telfair.  Luckily, it does not feel like an extended commercial like some other similar documentaries because Hock is willing to touch upon some darker subjects.  And despite the fact that Telfair is on screen for so long, one still doesn't get a sense of who he is.  They can see his athletic performance, his background, and some of his family, but Telfair the person remains elusive.  As a result, Through the Fire works as a standard sports documentary.  It is exciting and there is good footage, but it doesn't go much past a superficial level.

Mongoose Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 43 minutes, Not Rated but contains some language, probably an R, possibly a PG-13.

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