tells the story of Texas Western's surprising run to the 1966 NCAA basketball championship which was capped with a defeat of legendary power Kentucky and it's all-white team using only African-American players. First of all, Josh Lucas embodies a basketball coach in his role as Don Haskins. After seeing footage of the real Coach Don Haskins, Lucas' portrayal can be seem to be even more spot-on. Secondly, the film's limited but excellently edited footage of on-the-court basketball action is well-done and does not undermine the film. The film also liberally uses Motown songs to set the time period.
Story-wise, the film takes a few Hollywood shortcuts, most of them of little inpact, so as that Haskins was in his fifth successful season at Texas Western, rather than his first. The film's "fudges" on the racial issues are more controversial: Texas Western had African-American and Latino players before Haskins arrived. Also, Haskins denies playing only his African-American players in the champioinship game against Kentucky as a statement on racism, although it's interesting that some of his own players from that team do believe that he was making a conscious statement.
In this reviewer's opinion, the film's shortcoming is that its tries to put so much story into the film that depth of the characters is lost. Lucas' Haskins is the lead characters, but aside from a couple of scenes with his wife, little is seen of him off the court or outside practice. Each of the African-American players is carefully introduced, but aside from Nevil Shad's personal conflict, none of the film's featured characters grow in depth as the film progresses.
The film instead transitions to a standard formula about racism. The African-American players deal with verbal abuse, a beating, hotel rooms trashed, death threats and their own angry desire for revenge. The white players on the team grudgingly learn to respect their colored teammates. The coach makes the proclamation to his team that he's going to make a statement by playing only the African-American players and the white players meekly support it. To their credit, the filmmakers did not portray legendary Kentucky basketball coach Adolph Rupp as overtly racist, but left his stance ambiguous.
The filmmakers might have taken some lessons from Hoosiers
, which was another film about college basketball underdogs of a different kind. That film's weakness was the basketball action, but the character development was great. The coach learned something from his players. Lucas' Haskins has a chance to learn something from his players through their fluid style of play, but the opportunity is lost. As a result, the characters undergo little further development after excellent setup as the film turns to making a political statement. Even so, the film is one of the better sports films to be seen, boasting an excellent cast, editing and production values.
- Widescreen Format (Full Screen
- Audio Commentary by Director James Gartner & Producer Jerry Bruckheimer
- Audio Commentary by Writers Chris Cleveland & Bettina Gilois
- Legacy of the Bear
: Highlights of Coach Don Haskins' Career (12:00)
- Surviving Practice
: Former UTEP player Tim Hardaway talks about Coach Haskins' practices as he coaches his own professional team, the Florida Pitbulls. (4:00)
- In Their Own Words - Remembering 1966: Surprisingly candid and insightful interviews with players and colleagues of Coach Haskins (22:00)
- Alicia Keys Music Video
- "Sweet Music"
- Deleted Scene - "Don and Mary in the Gym" (1:15): Quiet scene between husband and wife
- Deleted Scene - "Frogs in Orsten's Bed" (1:30): The team goes frog hunting with Ross, except for Orsten
- Deleted Scene -
"Award for Rupp" (1:55)
- Deleted Scene - "Elevator" (1:49): Haskins and Rupp have a chance encounter in the elevator.
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