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— Tate Donovan, Hercules

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A few key facts about Glory Road will probably tell you all you need to know. It’s a sports movie; it’s largely about race — the protagonists are the first all-black college basketball team to win an NCAA title; and it’s produced by Jerry Bruckheimer.

The movie’s biggest failure is its lack of originality. The rules of the sports-film genre have solidified so densely that not even light can escape. Every sports-movie cliche in the book is worked into Glory Road, and it’s almost as if the movie doesn’t even want to try anything original.

Director James Gartner, who has a long career in commercials, is mostly up to the task of directing his first feature, but a few problems are apparent. The basketball cinematography leaves a little to be desired. “The Iowa game” is mostly shot in close-up, so we never have a good sense of what’s happening on the court. And many of Texas Western’s games are included in the movie, but not integrated into the story (although, seeing the movie a second time, I’m having second thoughts about this reservation).

But aside from those complaints, Glory Road is a fine piece of entertainment. To start with, the pacing is outstanding. The movie dashes right along, managing to avoid any slow, “going-out-for-popcorn” moments in the middle. By the time it’s over, you’re practically ready for more.

The race issue, though simplistic, is emotionally satisfying in that over-the-top, triumphant, Bruckheimer way. It would be easy for a cynic to attack a movie as lightweight as this on its handling of the race issue. But Glory Road stays frank. There were times when I felt the story laid the racism on a little thick, but on reflection, Glory Road probably gives a fair portrayal of how America-at-large felt forty years ago.

Character actor Josh Lucas steals the movie as coach Don Haskins. He’s actually the central character, so perhaps it’s not really theft. Lucas has the twang of Matthew McConnaughey, if not the wild-haired charm. As Haskins, he’s motivated, determined, colorblind, smart, and a hardass. He plays the sports-movie cliche of a coach to a T, but he never plays it as a two-dimensional stereotype.

DVD Extras

Josh Lucas steals the show
Josh Lucas steals the show

The Glory Road DVD has a mix of average and above-average extra features.

It includes 4 deleted scenes, two of which play pretty well. These two feature Jon Voight; one of them even adds a bit of depth and sympathy to his character.

The DVD has 4 featurettes. The best is In Their Own Words: Remembering 1966. It features interviews of the players, recalling the season depicted in the movie. If the movie made you curious about the real events, this is the featurette to watch.

Another featurette focuses on Don Haskins. This one feels like one of those DVD puff pieces where everyone praises everyone else; only in this case, everyone praises the real Don Haskins. It’s a nice tribute, but it’s pretty cloyingly sweet.

There’s also a video with Alicia Keys, and a very short segment called Surviving Practice, about how practices were run on the movie set.

Commentaries

There are two audio commentaries. The better of the two features director James Gartner and producer Jerry Bruckheimer. Bruckheimer has almost nothing to say, and I wondered if he was even in the room with Gartner. After introducing himself, it’s another 20 minutes before he speaks again. For his part, Gartner is a better-than-average commentator, being more coherent than many. Long silences hint that he could have done a little more homework, perhaps. His comments range from the technical aspects of filmmaking (lighting and cameras), to his approach to the various actors (Derek Luke wanted more direction; Jon Voight came super-prepared), to which parts of the story were actually true (most of the important points). Also, it was refreshing to hear a Hollywood director casually mention that he’s a Mormon — no preaching, no complaining about Hollywood, just something he is interested in when he’s not directing.

The screenwriters speak on the other commentary track. They seem mostly interested in talking about which parts of the story are based in fact, and which parts are fictionalized. They speak of the personalities of the real Haskins and his players. They sound more distracted by the movie than Gartner and Bruckheimer, and they’re not quite as informative, but for aspiring screenwriters, it might be worth a listen.

Navigating the DVD

If you only want to spend one night with this DVD, I’d recommend watching the movie first, the deleted scenes second, and In Their Own Words third. If you have two nights, I’d recommend watching the commentary with Gartner and Bruckheimer. Of limited appeal are the Alicia Keys video, the screenwriters’ commentary, and the featurette on Haskins.

Picture and Sound

Sound quality is very good, but as in the theater, the pop music seems to overwhelm the dialogue. Picture quality is, of course, excellent. A separate full-screen DVD is also available.

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