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Hoosiers

Does anyone not know how Hoosiers ends?

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.