"Glory Road," the latest movie from mega-producer Jerry Bruckheimer, is "based on the true story of the team that changed everything."
"Glory Road" opens Friday. (Disney)
That team is the 1965-66 Texas Western Miners basketball team, which made it to the NCAA finals against the Kentucky Wildcats—and started five black players. The all-black lineup was a first for an NCAA championship game.
The fast-moving script, directed by James Gartner, follows the team on that triumphant yet rattling season. Triumphant, because of their championship run; rattling, because of the racism they endured to get there.
Josh Lucas ("Sweet Home Alabama") stars as Miners coach Don Haskins—a man known for his competitiveness and colorblindness.
"I don't see color," says Haskins. "I see quick. I see skill."
The movie portrays Haskins as a civil rights pioneer, recruiting and playing African Americans at a time when most other teams in the South were not doing so. It was a time when, as one character in the movie says, it's a joke to think "Negroes are the future of basketball."
Haskins travels cross-country, finding some of the best players out there who have been ignored because of their race. He hits Gary, Ind., and New York City, beckoning players to join him in El Paso, which he says is "not like the rest of Texas" because it is "more cosmopolitan."
College boosters aren't happy with Haskins' decision, not even after the Miners win a few games. But Haskins is determined, and so are his players, who must get past their own prejudices as well as threats and acts of racism from a faceless public.
The best "movie coaches" are of course the most dramatic—the ones who lay down the law and shock you with unorthodox training and teaching techniques. Haskins fits the bill. No girls, no booze, no late nights, he says. The players don't listen, and the conflict is set.
"Glory Road" is as much about racism and perseverance as it is about basketball. Gartner, known mostly for directing commercials, does an admirable job of creating a 1960s feel for a movie that is undoubtedly meant to appeal to broad audiences (i.e. kids). There's lots of era music, and the golden light of history illuminates almost all of Gartner's visuals.
"Glory Road" is good, not great. It crams too many storylines into its 106 minutes and moves along too fast, as if a shot clock were going to expire. Moments that could have been explored and given more depth (e.g. the coach's family being threatened) were all but dismissed. But, narrative speed is quintessential Bruckheimer storytelling.
Like most "based on" stories, this one takes some license, inventing scenes here and there. In the final game—when Haskins takes on coaching legend Adolph Rupp (Jon Voight)—the drama spikes, as you would expect. And not just in basketball, but in civil rights activism.
Did Haskins intentionally bench his non-black players? Was Haskins making a social statement? Bruckheimer and company aren't historians, but they've certainly got a historical tale to tell. And it's an important one, for many of today's youth probably have never imagined that African Americans were kept off championship courts.
"Glory Road" doesn't beat "Hoosiers" for the Best Basketball Movie award, but it's a worthy entry in the growing library of good sports movies that includes "Coach Carter," "Rudy," "The Rookie," "The Greatest Game Ever Played," "Miracle, "Remember the Titans," "Rocky" and "Chariots of Fire."
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.
MPAA Rating: PG for racial issues including violence and epithets, and mild language. Reviewer's Note: One of the players is violently assaulted in a bathroom.
Director: James Gartner
Writers: Christopher Cleveland & Bettina Gilois and Gregory Allen Howard
Cast: Don Haskins: Josh Lucas; Bobby Joe Hill: Derek Luke; Jerry Armstrong: Austin Nichols; Harry Flournoy: Mehcad Brooks; Orsten Artis: Alphonso McAuley; Willie Cager: Damaine Radcliff; Nevil Shed: Al Shearer; Willie Worsley: Samuel Jones III; David Lattin: Schin A.S. Kerr; Adolph Rupp: Jon Voight; Mary Haskins: Emily Deschanel.
The movie's official Web site is here.