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THE HEART OF THE GAME

Review by Michael Jacobson

Narrator:  Chris “Ludacris” Bridges
Director:  Ward Serrill
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Miramax
Features:  See Review
Length:  98 Minutes
Release Date:  February 27, 2007

“The Darnellia Russell story is ONE FOR THE AGES.”

Film ****

I love documentaries, and it’s been so long since I’ve seen a real one…most of them these days are some kind of activist propaganda that treat the truth as inconvenient rather than an honored commodity.  The Heart of the Game was more than enough to restore my faith, at least for a little while.  It’s one of the year’s best, and one of the most inspiring movies you will ever see.

In it, you get to meet two extraordinary characters.  The first is Bill Resler, a teacher of tax law who has a love of basketball, and almost on a whim, decides to apply for the open spot as women’s basketball coach at Roosevelt High in Seattle.  He gets the job in a school where men’s sports are celebrated and ladies’ sports are ignored.  In one year, with his calm but inspiring and unusual methods as a coach, he turns that around, as his Roughriders girls’ team indeed rides rough over the competition.  It is also the year before a young girl named Darnellia Russell becomes a freshman.

An inner city girl with confidence and skills, she ends up accepting that Roosevelt offers more opportunities, and as an African American in a mostly white school, makes the varsity team as a freshman.  The film, as directed by Ward Serrill, follows Darnellia, Bill, and the rest of these amazing young women over the next several years.

And in the midst of it all, something unexpected happens.  I so want to talk about it, but I can’t imagine giving anything in this extraordinary film away.  All I can say is that Darnellia finds herself facing the toughest challenge of her young life in court, and not the kind with two baskets.  It involves an organization called the WIAA.  I don’t know what it stands for, but all I could do was recoil in disbelief as this faceless bureaucracy seemed hell bent on making sure Darnellia never has any kind of future…in or out of the game.

It’s a struggle for her in her senior year, with the odds stacked against her but her team rallied around her, willing to face whatever consequences might come by standing by her side.  For Darnellia and Bill, it becomes more than a game.  It’s facing life head on, and refusing to back down.

What an incredible story this film tells…had it been fictional, who would have believed it?  But watching the events unfold before your eyes makes you involved in every moment of defeat and triumph.  It will remind you that true documentaries point their cameras at life and wait, like we do, to see what the outcome will be.  Life doesn’t belong to the Screen Writers’ Guild, but it sure knows how to throw in some amazing plot twists.  And it always provides us with the best characters.

What it doesn’t do is play fair…and whether we pick up our ball and go home or stand and fight is entirely up to us.  Darnellia Roberts is an inspiration to us all, and her story will remind us forever that we should never back down, never give up, and never stop playing the game.

Video ***

The anamorphic transfer from videotape source is pretty good…not many limitations are apparent and the colors and details are surprisingly good for a tape source. 

Audio ***

The 5.1 soundtrack puts you in the heart of the game with plenty of dynamic basketball action and clarity in both the stronger and the quieter scenes.

Features ****

The extras will take you into overtime, starting with a nice commentary from director Ward Serrill.  There are 12 deleted scenes with optional commentary and a making-of featurette.  Then you can delve further into the movie with interviews featuring narrator Ludacris, Darnellia and Bill, plus a look at “where are they now”.

Summary:

The Heart of the Game will make you leap from your seat and cheer if you have anything resembling a pulse.  Forget former veeps screaming that the sky is falling…this is the year’s true best documentary, and one of the best movies overall.

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