Jan. 09, 2006
Glory Road By Kirk Honeycutt for The Hollywood Reporter
Stirring tale of a team whose big win speeds the integration of intercollegiate sports.
"Glory Road" is an appealing story about a basketball coach who almost accidentally engages in social engineering in his quest to win games. This is the mostly true story of the 1966 Texas Western Miners, who won the NCAA championship with an all-black lineup against the all-white University of Kentucky Wildcats. That win not only broke an unspoken barrier and transformed the college game itself but arguably helped fuel the desegregation movement in this country. The coach, Don Haskins, played with energy and dedication by Josh Lucas, was no political activist but did realize that recruiting black players was a shortcut to winning in all-white Southern conferences.
This Jerry Bruckheimer production, directed by commercial director James Gartner in a solid feature debut, should please male fans as well as those who don't mind a dose of social commentary with their sports heroics. "Glory Road" will get the new year off to a fine start for the Walt Disney Co., which no doubt is aware that another basketball movie, "Coach Carter," racked up more than $67 million in boxoffice grosses playing at the same time last year.
With so much story to tell, the movie, written by Christopher Cleveland and Bettina Gilois, gets under way in a rush so it's hard to tell if Haskins is aware of the implications of his basketball revolution. The movie never quite explores whether he realizes the amount of hatred and abuse he is exposing his athletes to and how he prepares them to face those challenges.
Instead the movie sticks to a rags-to-riches tale of a high school girls basketball coach who gets an out-of-nowhere offer to coach at Texas Western University (now the University of Texas at El Paso). With virtually no budget for recruiting and a program he can't sell to talented white athletes, Haskins travels through northern cities to offer scholarships to black standouts.
To position a deserved halo even more prominently above Haskins' head, the movie stretches the truth in two ways. Haskins won the championship in his sixth season, not his first as the movie has it. And even before Haskins' arrival, Texas Western was the first college in a Southern state to integrate its athletic teams. Indeed, the coach inherited three black players from a previous coach.
While the film doesn't soft-peddle ugly incidents of overt racism, it treats most off-court conflicts with humor instead of studied seriousness. The film views its characters as college youngsters, engaging in good-natured byplay and looking for fun.
The actors do fine jobs of capturing aspects of each player's personality that underscore his contribution on the court. Derek Luke stars as Bobby Joe Hill, the agile backcourt artist whose resentment of racism feeds his athletic prowess. Schin A.S. Kerr has a glowering presence as the formidable center David Lattin.
Damaine Radcliffe is a determined Willie "Scoops" Cager, fighting to overcome a heart ailment to get back on the court. Sam Jones III makes pint-size Willie Worsley a spark plug at guard. Mehcad Brooks as forward Harry Flournoy must battle scholastic problems to stay in the lineup. And Austin Nichols has serious and humorous moments as Jerry Armstrong, a white player forced to adjust his game and social attitudes.
Jon Voight plays legendary Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp with a face that alternates between a scowl and a look of astonishment. The film does a delicate balancing act of making Rupp the nominal villain while giving him his due as a shrewd strategist who simply meets his match in a younger and hungrier rival coach.
All the game footage is well shot and edited. The cinematography by John Toon and Jeffrey Kimball is outstanding, though Trevor Rabin's music is conventional, even at times overbearing. Designer Geoffrey Kirkland makes the gyms and locker rooms all but reek of stale sweat.
Buena Vista Pictures
Walt Disney Pictures in association with Jerry Bruckheimer Films
Director: James Gartner
Screenwriters: Christopher Cleveland, Bettina Gilois
Producer: Jerry Bruckheimer
Executive producers: Mike Stenson, Chad Oman, Andy Given
Directors of photography: John Toon, Jeffrey Kimball
Production designer: Geoffrey Kirkland
Music: Trevor Rabin
Costumes: Alix Friedberg
Editor: John Wright
Don Haskins: Josh Lucas
Bobby Joe Hill: Derek Luke
Jerry Armstrong: Austin Nichols
Adolph Rupp: Jon Voight
Moe Iba: Evan Jones
David Lattin: Schin A.S. Kerr
Orsten Artis: Alphonso McAuley
Harry Flournoy: Mehcad Brooks
Willie Worsley: Sam Jones III
Willie "Scoops" Cager: Damaine Radcliffe
Mary Haskins: Emily Deschanel
MPAA rating PG
Running time -- 114 minutes