Does anyone not know how
This is not a film that will surprise anyone. The Hollywood sports film
formula has been long established: Plucky underdogs endure the slings
and arrows of a difficult season to win the "Big Game." It's all too
obvious where the film is going.
But in the case of this film, the journey is so much more than the
destination. It's not just a story about winning, but about second
chances and redemption – for the team, for its coach (Gene Hackman), his
love interest (Barbara Hershey) and even the father of one of the
players (Dennis Hopper).
Coach Norman Dale moves to the small town of Hickory, Indiana and takes
over one of the state's smallest high school teams. But can a big city
guy come to this "hick town" with his gruff style and win over not only
a group of players, but also a community?
The easy plot summary has to do with the basketball itself. But as
Hackman says at the start of the documentary on the second disc, "I
guess it's about basketball, but it's really about people." This is not
a film about a basketball team, but about a coach and his relationship
with his team.
Also, in a larger sense, the film is a love letter to a time and
atmosphere. Indiana high school basketball is right up there with Texas
high school football or Boston college hockey; it is a passion, a
calling, a religion. The film captures that tone perfectly.
Along with the high school players are a trio of standout performances,
one of which gets unfairly maligned. First is Gene Hackman, a man with
two Academy Awards who likely deserves more. He is at the top of his
game here as coach Dale, with all the mannerisms and movements of a
longtime basketball coach. But it is his transformation over the course
of the film, culminating with his line, "I love you guys," is priceless.
As Shooter, Hopper strikes just the right note between being in control
and out. His alcoholism controls him, but Hopper knows how to avoid
caricature and is believable, even as he jumps up and down on the bed
celebrating at the end of the film.
Then, there is Barbara Hershey, saddled with the most difficult task:
The love interest in a sports movie. But unlike Susan Sarandon in
Bull Durham or even Rene Russo in Major League, Hershey is
given few character traits to work with – the film's lone drawback. But
she does everything she can with Myra, and thankfully her best work is
seen in the film's special features.
Special mention should also be made of Jerry Goldsmith's excellent score
and Fred Murphy's cinematography, both of which go a long way towards
capturing the feel of Indiana hoops. In addition, this is a film that
benefits greatly from being shot on location, rather than on a Los
Angeles sound stage; there's no substitute for the look and feel of a
real high school gym in a real small town.