Welcome to Sport on the Silver Screen. In this series, I will be looking back over sports movies that I have recently watched/re-watched and giving my thoughts on them. Getting into the Schmoedown and starting to follow a number of the personalities from the show has given me a much greater appreciation of movies and seen me starting to watch more.
Being a fan of both movies and sports, I have taken the chance to start highlighting the sheer volume of sports movies out there. For each movie I will be giving some details about the movie and then a quick review, including a section giving a sports fan’s perspective of the action’s realism.
This series has been heavily influenced by Ben Bateman and Andrew Ghai of Action Industries, and as such I will be borrowing a couple of sections that they use in their weekly show Action Movie Anatomy: Fist-pump moment and favourite line. Be aware, there will be spoilers, but I will try to keep them to a minimum.
Having looked at 2 of my favourite sports movies for my first 2 articles int eh series, I was planning to look at something new for my third. But after everything that has been going on over recent weeks, there was only one movie that felt right and topical: Remember the Titans
Directed by Boaz Yakin
Music by Trevor Rabin
Released in 2000
Starring: Denzel Washington, Will Patton, Wood Harris, Ryan Hurst, Donald Faison
Synopsis: The movie is based on the true story of the 1971 T. C. Williams high school football team in Alexandria, Virginia. After the school integrated, Herman Boone is brought in to coach the team. The story shows how the black and white players (and the coaches) come together as a team and then follows them through a season while having to deal with the racism of those around them.
Let me start by acknowledging that as a white male, I have things very easy in my life due to an undeserved privilege. I don’t know what it is like to experience racism or discrimination. Do I think that Remember the Titans accurately depicts the racism the team had to deal with? To a degree, yes, but I admit that as a Disney movie intended for families, certain dramatic liberties are bound to have been taken that will have likely toned down some moments but also created or hyped up others. What it does though is leave me with a feeling of how the situation was and allow for a clear growth from the characters throughout the film as they begin to see beyond the colour of each other’s skin, shown well by characters like Gerry Bertier’s mother who goes from her initial racism to helping comfort Julius Campbell and forcing him to stay strong following Gerry’s accident. Similarly we get the growth of Gerry’s girlfriend (played by Kate Bosworth) from not even wanting to touch Julius to shaking his hand before the final game. Similarly, I love the growth amongst the players, with initially just a few bonding but more over time as they find common ground (such as Ryan Gosling’s Alan Bosley bonding over music) or come to respect each other on the pitch like Gerry and Julius.
The movie itself could be considered somewhat formulaic – a new team of players comes together over time and has to overcome difficulties caused by those around them on their way to a climactic final match (note the similarities to The Replacements when summarised like that) – but that in no way makes it a bad movie as this will often be the case with sports movies. The characters themselves are on the whole likeable (except the ones who aren’t meant to be like Burgess Jenkins’ Ray Budds – who was made up for the movie), and while Coach Boone does often come across as too strict and not likeable – including deliberately showing up two of the players in front of the team and their families when they first meet, there are also some scenes that explain why he is strict and other moments, like with Ethan Suplee’s Louie Lastik or during his speech at Gettysburg, that shows his softer side. Of the players, the performance that really stands out for me is that of Wood Harris as Julius Campbell. As one of the driving forces and star players on the team, he gets a lot more serious screen time than others players, but he uses this time really well, with his notable scenes being an argument with Gerry about why he should play for the team when Gerry is captaining them but not calling out the whites for not blocking for their black Quarterback – a turning point for the pair and the team – and the scene where he reaches the hospital to find out that Gerry is paralysed from the waist down and breaks down, but has to try staying strong. Finally, I really need to praise the performance of Hayden Panettiere as the daughter of Will Patton’s Coach Yoast. Child actors can so often break a movie, but she does a great job here as a young girl obsessed with her father’s football team and she never feels out of place in scenes with greats like Patton and Denzel Washington.
Remember the Titans features a mix of a soundtrack along with a score from Trevor Rabin and the pair mesh brilliantly together, with the soundtrack providing the general tone to the movie, but then the score replacing it to underline many of the more inspirational speeches and moments, add tension where appropriate and place the focus on the football scenes. It does not draw your attention in the same way some scores will (though it certainly deserves the love) but it works underneath what we are watching to accentuate the moment.
So as mentioned before, this is based on a true story, but a lot of changes have been made for theatrical reasons. The real Titans were more successful than the movie suggests with a number of big wins on the way to their 13-0 season, while the game with Marshall that the final game was based off was actually mid-way through their season (and the actual State Championship game was a 27-0 blowout). There is also no evidence that any of the Titans’ games were officiated as blatantly unfairly as we see in the Regional Championship, while in reality all of their opponents would have been integrated schools rather than all-white.
In terms of the actual action, though, Remember the Titans feels very believable. As high school football, it is easy enough to believe players would be able to switch between offense and defense with more ease, while the gameplay feels natural and not reliant on gimmick plays, even the last-ditch play to win the State Championship feels very natural and something that we could see even in an NFL game.
Ironically, Remember the Titans is probably one of the least remembered movies in the Movie Trivia Schmoedown, with players having frequently missed questions relating tot he film, including Above The Line missing 2 questions on the film in their first shot at the Team Title, which cost them the match.
Seeing the team begin to come together in the classic “Strong side”, “Left side!” scene was very close, I had to go for a moment mid-way through the Regional Championship game.
Having seen the team be unfairly penalised all game. Coach Yoast sacrifices his hall of Fame place by threatening to go to the press if the officials don’t let the game play out fairly. He goes back to the sidelines,makes some adjustments and gives the “Leave no doubt” speech (one of the most inspirational in the movie) and the defense immediately begins to dominate the game.
“All right now, I don’t want them to gain another yard! You BLITZ ALL NIGHT! If they cross the line of scrimmage, I’ll take every last one of you out! You make sure they remember, forever, the night they played the Titans! Leave no doubt!
While the “Leave no doubt” speech was certainly up there, I ended up picking something that felt much deeper. After Gerry’s accident, Julius goes to see him in hospital, but the nurse tries to stop him, leading to this great response from Gerry:
“Only kin’s allowed in here.”
“Alice, are you blind? Don’t you see the family resemblance? That’s my brother.”
As someone who has played team sports for years, your teammates really do begin to feel like family. And especially with my rugby 7s team the Pistol Shrimps, I find that we can go a year (or more) without speaking, but as soon as we meet up, we’re ripping into each other but will always stand up for each other if someone outside the group causes trouble.
More than that, though, this line is a beautiful reminder that the colour of your skin should not be defining you. Hopefully we are close to seeing a day where that is a reality rather than a dream.
What did you think of this movie? Let me know in the comments. Until next time!