Who’s In It: Rob Brown, Dennis Quaid, Omar Benson Miller, Clancy Brown, Charles S. Dutton
The Basics: College football legend Ernie Davis was the first African American to win the Heisman Trophy. He did this just as the Civil Rights Movement was coming to a full boil. And this cleaned-up, family-friendly movie takes his story and injects it with a special kind of performance-enhancing drug designed to strip away troubling and extraneous details and pump up the inspiration to big huge musclebounditude. Its side effects are a simultaneous compulsion to cheer loudly for and get choked up by the Big Emotional Moments of the Big Game, as well as an ability to still predict every single thing that happens on screen before it actually goes down.
What’s The Deal: You don’t need a film critic to tell you much about this at all. If you love these kinds of movies (and for some reason I do even though I think real sports are boring) then you’re going to go and you’re going to love it because it pushes all the pleasure buttons it’s contractually obligated to push. And the great thing about the movie genre where sports triumph over racism in the 1960s is that you get the crunch of Neanderthal-jocko victory and a sweetly R&B-cushioned way to feel good about how we’ve all evolved past racial prejudice even though we haven’t. If you want nuance, go read a book about it or something; this movie has a football game to win.
PG Ain’t Real Life: The thing about the Civil Rights Movement is that it nearly tore this country apart. It had to happen, of course, but the shock you feel when you watch racist behavior in a film like this—or on a show like the much more complex Mad Men with its casual public racist jokes and suffocating misogyny—is nothing compared to the shock you’d feel if you could get into a time machine and go back to experience the real undiluted ugliness. But again, it’s one of those teach-your-kids-a-history-lesson movie that’s for an elementary school/baby-steps understanding of institution-based discrimination. It’s not like you can just sit them down to Mississippi Burning or Beloved.
A Bigger Problem: Rob Brown as Davis is so noble he almost disappears. That’s when it becomes a movie about Dennis Quaid’s grumpy-faced transformation. Because we needed more movies about how racism affected nice white people.