Real-life passion and energy genuinely rush from girls high school basketball in the sports documentary written and directed by Ward Serrill.
The Heart of the Game will invite comparison to the exceptional Hoop Dreams and triggers emotions felt in Love & Basketball, even the recent Jerry Bruckheimer-produced Glory Road. With adept high-definition camerawork, the results are effective even if the schematic is familiar to most inspiring pieces like this.
Serrill chronicles Seattle's Roosevelt Roughriders over a seven-year stretch with those most discernible on view being Bill Resler and Darnellia Russell.
The portly, hirsute Resler is a University of Washington tax professor with more than a passing interest in basketball. When given the opportunity to lead the mostly white high school hoopsters, his "animalistic" approach makes the perennial losers into contenders.
The concern to illuminate the entire squad isn't there, though it is evident what can happen when one very talented girl tries her hand with a manipulative, private coach.
The Heart of the Game becomes more absorbing as the strong-tempered, black Russell comes into view. Resler's support of this self-destructive girl is unwavering as she looks to better her life through a sport that can be empowering through dribbling, shooting, and, of course, dunking.
Darnellia's eligibility provides the main conflict in the second part of the documentary, as complications arise from an unwanted pregnancy. How a legal strife plays out might seem a bit problematic for the filmmakers, but it's dramatized in a way that is meaningful, rather than exploitative.
Chris "Ludacris" Bridges provides the voice-over work, not intruding too much, and while the commentating of the Roughriders games seems a tad repetitive, the adrenaline rush of the team under their somewhat comical, jolly, yet stern coach is evident. And, like Jon Voight's Adolph Rupp opposite Don Haskins in Glory Road, there is a formidable adversary for Resler in ex-Olympian and Harlem Globetrotter, Joyce Walker, who makes the most of her limited screen time.
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