Thursday, August 10, 2006

the heart of the game

I took the Golden Child to the movies on Monday. There's a little independent theater about 70 miles from our house. It's been there about a year. I saw Nightwatch, Brick, Tristram Shandy, and District B13 there, among others. Thirty years ago, we wouldn't have been able to get a sniff of those movies unless the university was showing them as part of a series, and then you would have been watching them in a cramped, ancient college auditorium on a stained screen with dim projection. Trust me, it's much nicer to sit in padded seats and see a crystal-clear image on a big screen whilst I sip a Fitz's root beer.

The Golden Child and I piled into the car and trekked to the Moxie to see The Heart of the Game, a highly praised documentary. I was a bit chary of the film since it revolves around the well-known "much beloved coach who makes a great impact in his players' lives." I played football and basketball in high school and college and most of my coaches were self-centered asses at best, borderline psychotics at worst.

The Heart of the Game got me. Bill Resler, the women's basketball coach at Roosevelt High in Seattle, and Darnellia Russell, a dominating player who comes from a different section of Seattle than most of her teammates, leave indelible impressions. Resler seems to be that rarest of creatures: a coach who loves the game, but loves his players more. Let's just say I want to play for him. The way he deals with tough losses and the words he offers to his team are marvelous. Russell takes over the screen the way she takes over the court; you cannot look away from her.

There's an old cliche that says "If you wrote a script like this, Hollywood wouldn't buy it." You could say that about The Heart of the Game, only Hollywood would buy it. They'd just turn it into crap. Filmmaker Ward Serrill follows the Roosevelt team for seven years and so can shape the narrative of his film for maximum impact. He trusts his story and doesn't hype it. The action tells the story. He even gets lucky with the final showdown. Roosevelt's ultimate opponent is their crosstown rival, and while the Roosevelt players are photogenic and friendly, the opposing players (at least those on camera) look downright scary.


Resler vows to play every player in the state final, even if it costs Roosevelt the game. Wouldn't you know it, players with almost no playing time during the regular season make key contributions.


Every element of the movie save one works. That weak link is the narration by Ludacris. I understand that it's a smart commercial move (his narration was recorded after the film made the festival circuit), but it's tepid in execution.

This is a good documentary. It would make an outstanding double feature with Legacy, Tod Lending's film from 2000. Find out where The Heart of the Game is playing and go see it.

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