Sunday, June 19, 2011
Happy Father's Day Pop.
I was eight years old. It was a cold, rainy Saturday morning and there was a fire burning in the fireplace. My Dad (Pop as I call him now) was making breakfast for my brother and I when he asked me to turn up the TV because a movie he liked was coming on. I protested a little because I wanted to watch my Saturday morning cartoons but he told me to give it a chance. I reluctantly agreed. Pop gave us both a plate and we settled down in the den to watch his movie. During the two hours that followed I fell in love with two things: basketball and Hoosiers. The movie was made by the now legendary team of director David Anspaugh and writer Angelo Pizzo, the creators of Rudy, and is loosely based on a true story.
The film opens with Coach Norman Dale (Gene Hackman) driving day and night, across the country. The landscape changes as he drives and eventually turns into farm land as he enters into Indiana. He finally pulls into a small high school in the middle of nowhere. Coach Dale makes his way upstairs and finds the principle. Here we learn that Dale has come a long way because he is outrunning a blemished past. This is his last chance.
Hoosiers is a sports movie, but it's also a redemption story. Redemption for a coach with a past, a team so small no one thinks they'll ever have a shot and for the town drunk, Shooter (Dennis Hopper). Shooter is the absent father of one of Dale's players and, fortunately for Dale, is a walking dictionary of the inner workings of Indiana basketball. Dale sees himself in Shooter. He tries to help Shooter by making use of his knowledge and giving him a job as an assistant coach.
This is a movie that truly understands high school sports in a small town. It isn't just a game, it's a religion. The men of the town gather with Coach Dale at a barbershop and discuss man-to-man vs. zone defense like theology professors arguing over the meaning of a passage of scripture. Coach Dale brings change to the team's usual routine and the town isn't ready to convert to the new methods. The setup is predictable but perfect for a movie like Hoosiers.
Coach Dale is demanding, stubborn and committed to his reconstruction of the team. "You are in the army. You're in my army. Every day between three and five," he tells his players. He breaks them down and then rebuilds them from the ground up. At first it looks as if he has no idea what he's doing. The team isn't winning and the town is growing angrier by the day. But, like all great sports movies, the team begins to come around and eventually makes it to the championship.
I can't say enough about the filming of the games. They are crafted so that we are always aware of what's happening on the court. Basketball is a fast moving sport and getting the camera angles to work so well was no easy feat. The cinematographer, Fred Murphy, did a wonderful job.
This is a great movie. Like all great sports movies we cheer for the underdogs and our hearts fill with joy when they overcome the impossible. On my worst days, watching Hoosiers again will more than likely wash away any bad feelings I may have had. It's hard to come away from this movie and feel anything other than a triumphant happiness.
The memory of that rainy, winter morning only grows fonder in my mind with each passing year. There are a handful of movies that have only gotten better with time and this is one of them. It may just be nostalgia but I don't care. Every film lover knows the truly great movies: Casablanca, Citizen Kane, Schindler's List and the others. Then there are the movies that are the greats to them individually. Hoosiers is on my individual list.
This Friday night you should cheer on Coach Norman Dale and his team while watching:
This review is dedicated to my Father. You're a great guy Pop. Thanks for being there from my first basket to my last.