Review by Gordon Justesen
Stars: Josh Lucas, Derek Luke, Jon Voight
Director: James Gartner
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Surround, Spanish Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Features: See Review
Length: 118 Minutes
Release Date: June 6, 2006
“WE DO NOT BACK DOWN EVER!!!”
Glory Road is an important history lesson disguised as a traditional sports movie. It just so happens that the events depicted managed to occur during a college basketball team’s rise to glory in 1966. For Coach Don Haskins, there were two obstacles to overcome during the season; making it to the NCAA championship, and defeating the ugliness of racism that was threatening to tear his team apart.
The film opens with Haskins (Josh Lucas), being offered the job to coach Division I basketball at Texas Western. Coaching such a level of college basketball is all that matters to Haskins. Once he gets the job, he illustrates to his coaching staff one vital element in his team’s strategy; recruit the absolute best. This intention leads him to the recruiting of several black players that none of the big schools wanted.
Since it was the late 60s, racism in the southern region was still a very deadly plague. But Haskins doesn’t see color in his players. Instead, he sees skill and a determination to win, and those are the very elements he wants on the court. If only there were more human beings like Don Haskins to exist in that time period.
Once his team is finally put together, Haskins acknowledges right away that acceptance of this team is going to be more than difficult. He has recruited more black players than white players, which will certainly not sit well with Texas Western’s fans and alumni. So it goes without saying that during this basketball season, winning games paled in comparison to being a person of color and being accepted on the basketball court.
The story reminds us of the triumphant breakthrough that Jackie Robinson accomplished when he got to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Texas, we learn, had an informal rule which stated that you could not play more than one black player at home, two on the road or three if you were behind. In the 1966 NCAA championship game against Kentucky, Coach Haskins defied all rules by starting five black players, which was a first in NCAA championship history. It’s a bold move that should be respected for all times.
The very social issues behind this important story is what makes Glory Road one of the best basketball movies to ever be made. Along the way, as we see what Haskins’ team has to endure on the road to the championship game, such as a racially motivated assault in a restaurant bathroom and the sight of horrific racial epithets scrawled in red on the walls of the player’s hotel room, we see very clearly why Haskins made the crucial decision before the final game. It wasn’t so much the defeat of Kentucky he was worried about, but the defeat of ignorance and hatred.
And the film is given strength by two crucial performances. The first is Josh Lucas, delivering his finest performances yet as Coach Haskins. Lucas injects himself into this role thoroughly, making one of the most convincing basketball coach portrayals I’ve ever seen. I’ve seen many real life coaches in action, and Lucas performance is as authentic and as heartfelt as it gets. It’s right up there with Gene Hackman in Hoosiers.
The second is Jon Voight, who doesn’t even pop up until midway through the film, as Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp. And although he doesn’t accompany much screen time, Voight (unrecognizable in a flawless make up job) pulls off the same majestic qualities in his flawless performance of Howard Cosell in Ali. During the last game, its phenomenal watching Voight as Rupp convey a level of astonishment as he realizes what is about the happen to the future of college basketball.
Glory Road is a remarkable accomplishment. It should be looked at not as a formulaic sports movie about who wins the BIG game in the end, but more as an important social lesson and how the barriers were broken for African Americans in the game of basketball. After watching this film, it’s very easy to see why Don Haskins’ “emancipation proclamation of 1966” is the most important moment in college basketball, as well as sports in general.
Disney’s anamorphic presentation delivers top notch video quality at a crowd-pleasing level. Image performance is that of a crisp and clear picture from beginning to end. Colors are extremely well handled as well. The all around detail is incredibly perfect; particularly in the tremendously well shot basketball sequences.
The 5.1 mix delivers some nice show-stopping moments. The game scenes are especially well rendered for the channels, combining crowd noise with action on the court. Trevor Rabin delivers yet another heart-stopping music score which is heard effectively and dialogue delivery is as clear as can be.
Disney delivers with some truly exceptional features that help to explore the historical significance of the story behind the film. Included are two audio commentaries; the first with director James Gartner and producer Jerry Bruckheimer; the second with screenwriters Chris Cleveland and Bettina Gilois. Also features are three featurettes; “Legacy Of The Bear”: Career Highlights of Coach Haskins, “Surviving Practice”: An Inside Look Into Coach Haskins' Training Regimen and “In Their Own Words - Remembering 1966”: Extended Interviews With Players and Colleagues of Coach Haskins, the music video for Alicia Keys’ song, “Sweet Music”, and Deleted Scenes.
Glory Road is a pure slam dunk. With its hard hitting social issues message surrounding the intense basketball segments, what we have here is one of the all around best basketball films, as well as one of the absolute best sports movies of the last several years.