Sports movies are a dime a dozen, but there's something about the genre that makes them impervious to the normal inconsistencies that others suffer. While action, dramas and comedies all tend to ebb and flow in terms of quality and entertainment value, sports movies all follow the same formula and yet manage to sustain a consistent level of entertainment. The reason is simple: we like to see the underdogs win, and most sports movies are able underdogs overcoming amazing obstacles.
The latest to try out this formula is a football movie called The Express, a largely ignored flick that came and went from theaters with little promotion and even less fanfare. Surprisingly, or not so surprisingly, The Express is a well made, entertaining and satisfying picture about Ernie Davis, the first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy.
A young man with an incredible running ability, Davis (Rob Brown) was drafted by Syracuse under the guidance of coach Ben Schwartzwalder (Dennis Quaid) and went on to lead his team to a national championship. Set against the volatile early '60's, Davis' accomplishments were threatened by racism - and an illness that would soon lead to his death.
An impressive movie all around, The Express has the look, feel and emotion of a sports classic. Davis' story is one that was destined to become a movie, and director Gary Fleder (Kiss the Girls) and writer Charles Leavitt (Blood Diamond) pay him the respect he deserves with sharp direction, strong dialogue and a moving story. Fleder tackles the dual requirements of any sports film with ease, crafting engaging drama while providing on-field excitement. The football scenes are intense, yet the rest doesn't feel like filler.
Rob Brown, who has had major roles in the excellent Finding Forrester and the basketball movie Coach Carter, does an excellent job as Davis, and one wonders why offers aren't flying at him left and right. Currently, IMDB reports no upcoming movies for the actor - though he is still in college, where he plays varsity football. Brown is pitch perfect in the role, and also brings a toughness to the field that makes everything about him - and the film - believable.
As for Quaid, he also does a good job. Getting hired on to play a coach must be a tough decision for actors, as they will inevitably be compared to all other on-screen coaches from the last several decades and yet have to be careful not to overdo the emotional rhetoric that comes packaged with characters like this. While Quaid does not stand out against others who have come before him, he seems perfectly content to play his part in such a way that enhances the movie without distracting from the focus of the story.
The Express is an entertaining, well made movie, and is one of the better football stories in recent memory. Recommended.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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