Rated: PG Reviewed by: Frank Release date: January 16, 2006 Released by: Walt Disney Pictures
I'm not sure why we are so attracted to this genre of film. I guess they give us hope that what appears impossible can happen; they allow all of us to dream. What characters could be better than The Rookie, a 38 year old pitcher who makes it into the majors, or Rudy, who got into one play for Notre Dame at the last minute and sacked the opposing quarterback.
In Glory Road, coach Don Haskins (Josh Lucas) leads his all-black Texas Western basketball team to the NCAA championship over an all-white Kentucky team that was coached by Adolph Rupp (John Voight). Not so unusual today but in 1966 it had never happened before. Both Rupp and Haskins are enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts. Rupp has a window on the second floor and Haskins' picture and plaque were entered on the third floor in the class of 1977.
Haskins who is played realistically and effectively by Josh Lucas is perceived by the actor as a guy who wasn't reaching for notoriety, he just wanted to win. His simple plan was to field the best team he could, given the lack of money to recruit to a relatively small college. He looked in places like Gary, Indiana steel mills and the South Bronx streets. We see some of the typical problems a coach has with new recruits who are not as disciplined as he would expect. Haskins and his wife lived in the men's dorm as monitors and almost parents, which was the reason he was hired in the first place. The players sneak off to Mexico at one point and constantly banter at each other's weaknesses but the banter is comical and funny not as insulting as it is today.
We see a lot of basketball on the court using varied camera locations and movement to capture the action by director James Gartner and the emotion of a young player who breaks the rules and is cut from the team as he pushes the theme that he is not a quitter. "Nothing is going to stop me from playing," is a line similar to Richard Gere in An Officer and a Gentleman, it's effective for the coach and for those of us watching.
The turning point comes when the coach accepts that these players have a unique style which he must allow to flow rather than attempting to make them follow his classic procedure. The film reaches high points when they beat Iowa after falling 30 points behind and when Haskins accepts a mother's plea to allow her son to play even when he has a bad heart which could potentially ruin the coach and harm the young player. It becomes dark when they return to their motel and find rooms trashed and they quickly escape in fear. But comedy fits in when a player's mama sits in on his classes until her son measures up on his grades.
All of this happened 40 years ago when the music on the radio was Shake It Up Baby, and these players had to have heart. Of equal importance is that the young men all led lives of value and did not simply rely of their performance in 1966 when they changed the nation. When I interviewed Jerry Bruckeimer, who produced the film, he expressed the belief that the film is of historical importance and entertaining all at the same time. He was right.