A satisfying trip down a familiar “Road”
“Glory Road” breaks absolutely no new ground for a sports movie– and that’s no surprise. Disney has been cranking out films using this formula for years, usually with box-office success and occasionally with stellar artistic effect. Despite a compelling story, some fine performances, and the usual flawless Jerry Bruckheimer production values, “Glory Road” is admirable and thoroughly watchable, although it is not on the same level as “Remember the Titans,” or “Miracle.” Even ardent basketball fans will agree the film doesn’t hang in the rarified air that such classics as “Hoosiers” or the documentary “Hoop Dreams” command.
So, thumbs down, right? Not exactly. “Glory Road” tells an important story that astonishes on several levels. The year is 1965 when Don Haskins arrives in El Paso to accept the basketball coaching job at little-known, cash-strapped Texas Western University (now known as UTEP).
With little to offer besides modest scholarships, he decides to hit the asphalt jungles of the inner city and recruit raw, athletic players. Unbelievably, not only does the team start beating teams from bigger schools, but it becomes the first team in the NCAA postseason tournament to start five black players. Battling racism, academic obstacles, inner-team conflict and a coach who demands discipline, the team meets its match in the finals against powerhouse Kentucky, led by legendary coach Adolph Rupp (yes, that’s Jon Voight with heavy makeup and prosthetic nose).
The outcome is no surprise, but first-time director James Gartner knows how to rev up all the right rah-rah emotions, as one would expect in an underdog triumph-filled with BIG important moments underscored by the requisite Motown soundtrack. Missing are the understated nuances between the hoopla of the action sequences that would allow the audience to connect with the characters. Remember the initial tension that evolved into mutual respect between Denzel Washington’s character in “Titans” and the white coach he replaced? How about Gene Hackman’s recovering alcoholic coach in “Hoosiers,” or Kurt Russell’s fanatic training rituals in “Miracle?”
This is not a criticism of Josh Lucas, who does a respectable job as Haskins, or of Voight, who brings plenty of ol’ boy arrogance to his portrayal. In fact, the players and supporting cast are credible. Two of the best scenes involve the spunky mothers of two of the athletes– one who needs motivation in class, and another who is at risk because of an enlarged heart.
Perhaps the film’s most poignant moments capture the comments of the actual players involved, including former Lakers player and coach Pat Riley, as they describe their experiences. They surface as the final credits roll.
If you have a sports-minded child in your life, you could do worse than to take him (or her) to see this dramatization of an important moment in history. But be advised, the familiar territory covered by “Glory Road” may leave you wishing for something that digs deeper into the soul of a sportsman’s passion.
Rated PG for racism, violence, and language.