THUMBS DOWN FILM REVIEW RATING!
Nothing should take away from the amazing circumstances that led coach Don Haskins to defy southern standards and start playing a mostly black NCAA team in El Paso, Texas during a time when the U.S. was rife with bigoted undertones. But then you watch this Disney film and wonder what went wrong...
The legend of "The Bear" (Haskins) lives on in the El Paso community and should leave little doubt in anyone’s mind that this great man accomplished something extraordinary in 1966 by leading his black and white Texas Western basketball team to the national title. But in the hands of screenwriter Bettina Gilois, the film falls far short of rousing entertainment.
The movie stars Josh Lucas (SECOND HAND LIONS) as Coach Haskins and Lucas pulls in a good role from this languid script. Matching "The Bear’s" attitude toward discipline and basketball basics, Lucas’ performance was the cherry on this otherwise melting, gooey mess. When we first meet Haskins, he’s the coach of a girls high school basketball team and is approached by the tiny NCAA school of Texas Western. Hungry to advance his coaching career, he and his family move into the dorm for the Western team, only to learn that there’s little hope for success from such a small community with a crumbling stadium. But Haskins won’t give up. He travels around to various states with his coaching team, hoping to find some successful players. But all of the Great White Hopes refuse to join up. So Haskins’ search takes him to Harlem, Detroit and other less-than-appealing locales, digging up some of the best black talent the streets have to offer. He meets with much resistance upon returning home, too. People call him and his team the "N" word, as well as other unseemly titles. But these taunts soon turn to amazed cheers as Haskins leads his team to a near undefeated first season. And when Haskins team makes it to the NCAA finals, he starts a pure black team, something never heard of in basketball up to that point.
There’s nothing wrong with this awesome historical story, but its execution was lacking on so many levels as to make it a yawner. The audience is jerked from one set of circumstances to the next and they never get to focus on one particular character nor care about any of these wonderful kids (most viewers will probably feel fairly detached rather than anything approaching familiarity).
Comparisons between HOOSIERS and GLORY ROAD can easily be seen (although one is about high school ball while the other is NCAA), and the former still rules the high cinematic ground. Gene Hackmans’ coach Dale far outclasses Lucas’ portrayal of Haskins, not to mention Hoosiers excellent cohesive story, something completely absent in Glory Road. And this is a sad statement. Someone as important in the racial arena as "The Bear" should have had a much better film made about him and his brave team. But instead we get this snoozer, a lackadaisical Disneyrama film with poor character development and shallow entertainment. Stick to Hoosiers; you’ll be glad you did.