Glory Road is a nice little movie. Whew, that sounds damn demeaning but I’m not sure how to fix it because it is a nice little movie. It won’t really surprise you, it might inspire you a smidge, and it’s an accurate look at a historical basketball team. Glory Road is often funny, rarely boring and it doesn’t have any huge glaring weaknesses. So why am I so glib with the final verdict? Perhaps it has something to do with this film being Remember the Titans: The Basketball version.
The story follows the 1966 Texas Western men’s college basketball team, a team that started the first all-black starting five in men’s basketball history. The team is led by coach Don Haskins, a man obsessed with winning and unconcerned about race. Haskins wanted to win and figured the best athletes no other team was recruiting might be the way to go. He was clearly correct even though the team faced a lot of hurdles.
The film has a large and competent ensemble cast led by Josh Lucas as Haskins and Derek Luke as star point guard Bobby Jo Hill. It’s incredible now to think that a point guard of Hill’s stature wouldn’t be given the key to any college back then. I think we’ve all learned in this golden age that athletics in school generally trumps morals, ethics or educational concerns but back then evidently racism trumped athletics. The team doesn’t really have a foil besides general ignorance and perhaps the Kentucky Wildcats if you considered them the last chapel of all white-hood.
I think basketball translates better to the big screen than football so the sports action is very well done. A few of the actors involved were basketball players, but a few also needed to gain some roundball skill and they are mixed in seamlessly. Kudos there. The relationships in the movie also feel largely authentic and well done. The boys take some serious crap down south and you start really pulling for them about halfway through.
The real knock on Glory Road is the innovation factor. We’ve all seen this movie before. Now you could argue that a historical movie isn’t going to be able to ratchet up the innovation level too much and you’d probably be correct but it doesn’t make this movie more relevant. You’ll know the struggle, the outcome, the pithy “singing together in team unity” scene. I’m not saying this isn’t a story worth telling, it clearly is, I just wonder how big an audience will be flocking to the theatres to see something they’ve already guzzled. Moral Certitude has rarely equaled box-office fervor. I also wonder about the screenwriter Chris Cleveland who seems to have no other credits to his resume. Hey, Jerry, if you’re out there I’m willing to take a crack at race relations against the backdrop of 60’s doo-wop music too. Let’s do lunch.
I’m going to recommend Glory Road the same way I recommend vitamins. Not really passionately or wholeheartedly, but with the knowledge they are good for you and you could do worse. Glory Road is fun, fast and entertaining. It’s just not anything remotely groundbreaking.