Director: Boaz Yakin
It takes you on a raucous tour through high school American football, but you don't feel the conventional thrill. It talks about the de-segregation of the '70s—a city's efforts to mix blacks and whites in school and sport—but you don't sense the overarching drama. It shows the triumph of human spirit and an individual's struggle for excellence against prejudice, but there is no heroism of the Hollywood kind.
What kind of film is this then? Well, this is a docu-epic which demands nothing less than a retraining of your artistic/cinematic sensibilities. Instead of theatrics in the conflict-resolution mode, it offers you an even but exciting slice of a socio-political process. See how two men, of different colours, mould a group of hot tempered, bleary, racially divided boys into a dynamic winning team. Football was King to the people of Virginia. But its great traditions are put to test when the local school board is forced to integrate an all-black institution with a white one. Herman Boone (Denzil Washington), the black coach brought over from South Carolina, turns the potentially volatile situation on its head with help from Bill Yoast (Will Patton), the ex-head coach of TC Williams High Titans. Fired by widely differing motives, and fears, the two men set into motion a process by which the boys learn to work together and find what they have in common besides football.
True, classical drama cleanses your emotions. But this one makes you think. The dispensing of accustomed form, which requires at least three to four characters based around a plot, allows director Boaz Yakin to explore a multitude of characters and their attitudes. Even suffering is shown as a matter-of-fact, mundane reality. Images of resistance come across in a casual, pleasant way without the usual charge of an all-consuming, blinding passion. The camera captures the tensions at play in closeness and distance, but without exaggerations. Even the cast is kept within a framework of ideas—Denzil Washington's fight to prove himself as a successful coach conveys more—the proud underdog's power of the mind. It is the traditional, sober, Anglo-Saxon fair-play which is reflected through Will Patton. This is a surprisingly new, anti-Aristotle (anti-classical) aesthetics in mainstream format. Is Brecht back in reckoning?