Every year around this time, we get another sports movie where a ragtag group of underdogs rises up to beat a formidable foe, replete with a Rocky-type soundtrack, many scenes depicting a furious coach throwing papers and whatnot on the sidelines and lots of male bonding.
Glory Road is yet another one of those movies, but this one has a good heart and an interesting story based on true events involving NCAA basketball. Yes, all the clichés are dragged out onto the court, and some of them stop the action in its tracks. Still, the movie packs a decent punch because the story at its core is of such major importance, and a fine cast delivers it well.
Coach Don Haskins (Josh Lucas) is having a good old time coaching high school girls in one championship after another. Texas Western University comes a-calling, looking for somebody who can discipline a scattered crew of losers for minimal pay and little glory. Haskins wants to win, and when he can’t get the country’s best white players to attend his school, he starts looking elsewhere.
When he’s done putting his team together, he has seven black men on his squad, something the ‘60s south didn’t exactly accept overnight. He schools his team in fundamental basketball and condemns showboating (one of the players proclaims he wants to play for the Harlem Globetrotters). The stubborn coach eventually relents, allows the team to inject some of their personal style in play, and the rest is history.
The film works as both a competent sports film and a statement on racism in sports history. The movie tiptoes over the racism issue for some of its running time but addresses the subject squarely in its last half. It’s rated PG, so what’s depicted here probably isn’t half as horrible as what the real team endured, but the message gets delivered.
Lucas is one of the more hit-and-miss actors out there. His performance in Glory Road ranges from competent to downright cardboard cutout. It’s not his fault that the screenplay and director James Gartner call on him to deliver some rather mundane lines. There are lots of little shots of Lucas on the sidelines spewing routine dialogue like “Where’s the D?” and “You’ve gotta be kidding me!” Many of his inspirational speeches to the team are a hodgepodge of every other sports film ever made. Still, Lucas pulls it off, for the most part.
Actor Derek Luke is carving out a nice career for himself in rousing sports films. He starred as the doomed football player Boobie Mills in Friday Night Lights, and now he’s featured here as real-life player Bobby Joe Hill. Hill is depicted in the movie as the rebel of the team, starting a romance with his soon-to-be wife against the coach’s orders.
Appearing in a small role as legendary coach Adolph Rupp, Jon Voight creates a memorable character, although his work is hampered by a distracting, awful-looking prosthetic nose. Close-ups reveal it doesn’t have any pores, so it looks like Silly Putty smacked onto a performer’s face. This is the worst fake nose since Nicole Kidman’s in The Hours.
Gartner gets it right with the actual basketball footage. The games are exciting, even for those who know how the season wound up for the team. A capable athletic cast makes the action quite believable.
It’s nice to see a film that isn’t total dreck in January. This is normally the time for studios to throw stuff at us that can do major harm to the eyes, ears and psyche. Glory Road is fairly routine in many ways, but it hits a lot of high notes and manages to impress with the odds stacked against it.