You know, I pretend to be objective. I act like I am going to go into a movie unbiased and with a critic's eye for even the most minor of flaws. The thing is, I love football movies. I even liked Johnny Be Good, for God's sake. I don't really care anything about football per se, but I like the fact that, in the movies, every play is exciting and every game is a nail-biter. The other thing is that I love Denzel Washington movies. I can't think of one that I didn't like. So, it was probably a no-brainer that I was going to really enjoy Remember The Titans.
Denzel plays Herman Boone, head coach for an all-black school in Virginia who, along with his entire team, is integrated into an all-white school. When the white players and their parents find out that they will have to work with black players, chaos ensues. Movies about racial tension usually play well, I think because that wound is still kind of sore, and people feel obligated to appreciate work on the subject. Rarely, however, are any of these movies very positive. Watch Mississippi Burning or Higher Learning, and mostly you come away sad or thoughtful. This movie, however, leaves you feeling elated. "We're really all the same, deep down," this movie says. That may seem simplistic and easy to say, but how often do you see something that really expresses it? The boys on this team are able to come together in a way that is deeper than just visceral friendship. Titans is really all about the kids, and the example they set makes me wish we could all go to Coach Boone's football camp.
Denzel Washington is great, as usual. I read something that someone wrote about him to the extent that "he can play this role in his sleep, when is he going to choose a role with some meat?" I agree that he makes it look easy, but this is not a typical, good-guy role. You have to look deeper. Boone is really a jerk. It's not easy to play a guy who's a jerk, and still come off making you love him. Denzel's character is really enhanced by the superbly understated performance of Will Patton as Coach Youst, the displaced head coach of the aforementioned all-white school. Here is a truly good person, struggling with the prejudices of his time, his town, his friends, and himself. At first I thought he was doing a pretty poor job of acting. He's always calm, always soft-spoken, very even tempered. Then I realized that this is just how this guy is. Titans is based on a true story, and all the characters are real people.
One of the best things about this movie, and I almost hate to say this because it makes me feel like such a prude, is that it has no sex, almost no language, and almost no violence, not counting football games. It is refreshing to see a movie that can work so well without resorting to any of that. Don't get me wrong. I think that there are lots of times when sex, violence, and language are appropriate in a movie. If they effectively enhance the script, move the story along, serve as an integral plot point; fine, I'm there. But when a movie doesn't need all that mess, like this one, and they use it anyway, it's just a waste. Movies about school and sports are usually like that. Movies like Varsity Blues and Blue Chips are basically just exploitation. They're kind of fun, if you don't stop to think about how they are portraying these kids. This movie is more like Hoosiers, or Mr. Holland's Opus. A movie can really affect you without having to resort to playing to the baser instincts. You'll be surprised at the end of the movie, when you look back and think, "Hey, there wasn't any of that in there, and it was still a really cool movie."
Denzel/Football movie or not, I was all prepared to have a bunch of complaints. "Oh, I guess everything is the fault of the white man..." or "Yeah, I'm so sure that those players are going to come together as family just like that..." or "Like you can really be a better quarterback by using Tai Chi..." But one by one, my complaints were answered. Everything's not the fault of the white man, and it's harder than it looks to come together in the face of racial bias. And as for Tai Chi? Well, I guess I'd better sign up. The other problem I was prepared to have was on of perspective. Movies today generally have one target audience, either black or white, and are told almost exclusively from that point of view. This movie felt whole. It appeals to everyone, but not by dumbing down the material or by avoiding the hard questions, but by hitting them full on. Here is a movie that makes you think, but doesn't make you feel guilty. Life is just hard sometimes. Sometimes people can be really terrible to each other, and sometimes they can come together and do wonderful things. That's what Remember the Titans is about, and don't you forget it. Grade: A
Remember the Titans is rated PG.
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