The game of basketball is a very beautiful medium. From the older style of passing heavily and finding the best possible shot to the newer, ESPN-influenced highlight reel of dunks and flash, as a whole basketball is an absolute beauty of a sport to both watch and play. It requires a lot of teamwork, coordination, practice and deference. The best teams, the ones that tend to produce the best results, are always the ones that have the best cohesion and interplay. As a sport, it’s fascinating to watch new wrinkles to an otherwise static game, but in cinema basketball tends to be a hit or miss genre. For every good basketball movie like Hoop Dreams there are plenty of duds, fromThe Air Up There to Blue Chips to Air Bud.
Even basketball movies with established, top notch actors like Denzel Washington (He Got Game) or Samuel L. Jackson (Coach Carter) produce mixed results. There is one basketball movie, however, that stands above the rest as the standard by which basketball movies are judged by: Hoosiers.
Hoosiers is based off of the last small school to win the Indiana high school boys basketball championship, Milan. Before changes in the late 1990s, Indiana had a system in place that produced one state champion; everyone was thrown in a gigantic bracket and whittled down accordingly. Milan, in the 1950s, was the last small school to win the state title and is represented by the fictional school of Hickory, IN.
Two months into the school year Coach Norman Dale walks into Hickory, a former college coach looking for another chance after spending some time in the Navy. Played by Gene Hackman in a top-notch performance, Coach Dale comes into this small town bringing his own system into a town looking to impose what it feels is basketball upon him. It’s a tug of war between Hackman, the players, and the parents due to coaching philosophies. The townspeople know that they can shoot, but Hackman wants them to do more. In the end, Hackman wins them over, recruits the town drunk (Dennis Hopper) as his assistant coach, and brings his team with a new brand of play in to a climactic finale.
What makes Hoosiers a great movie and not just your cliche story about the underdog winning the big game is its attention to the development of the principle characters, the team Hackman coaches in particular. They aren’t just trendy archetypes of people designed for mass appeal, they are a group of small town kids strafing under a new coach. They don’t know much about him, but neither does the viewer. As the movie progresses, we get to learn more about the coach and get a lot more insight into his personality.
The other is its treatment of the sport of basketball itself. This isn’t a movie that relies on slam dunks and the sort of highlights one would find from the NBA. The basketball scenes are more of homage to the game, a loving tribute, than as a simple backdrop. The basketball isn’t just used to fill time or provide spectacular highlights; it is used to further advance the story in subtle ways. The more basketball is shown, the more we see the players embracing the new type of game and succeeding within its’ boundaries with their fandom slowly learning to accept it, and the new coach, as well.
This is a movie that views basketball in a much higher light than a regular sports movie; it is a tribute, it is the story of an underdog, and above all it’s just a great movie.
The Blu-ray extras are actually less than the special edition DVD that came out years ago. Included is a documentary on the team as well as the film. Plus there are some deleted scenes and the actual championship game.
If you really want to see this film in Blu-ray, high definition, this is a must have. If you already own one copy of Hoosiers already then you don’t need this one.
MGM presents Hoosiers . Directed by David Anspaugh. Starring Gene Hackman, Dennis Hopper, Barbara Hershey. Written by Angelo Pizzo. Running time: 115 minutes. Rated PG. Released: June 5, 2012. Available at Amazon.com.
Tags: Gene Hackman