Remember the Titans Review
Remember the Titans is another in a long line of feel-good American sports movies, this one produced by king-of-the-blockbusters Jerry Bruckheimer. Yet the film, inspired by a true story, isn't the usual sumptuously-shot Bruckheimer action epic. It's actually a fairly low-key (and low-budget) look at how desegregation in small-town America was broached by the local people and how the Power Of Sport coalesced this fractured community, both on and off the field. Aah.
The year is 1971, and the town is Alexandria, Virginia, USA. Several local schools are reorganised in order to further along the stagnating process of desegregation. Seniors from three different schools are pooled together at T.C. Williams High School, creating anger and resentment among the local community. This is felt most keenly by successful football coach Bill Yoast and his crop of milky-white players, Yoast having been replaced by Herman Boone, a black coach hand-picked by the local board of education.
Coach Boone, tough-talking, driven and opinionated, is not favoured by any of his charges, regardless of their skin colour, and even less so once they are all packed off to camp to try out for T.C. Williams' football team. There the various players begin to bond under Boone's firm-but-fair tutelage, most noticeably team captain Gerry Bertier and his counterpart Julius Campbell, although there is still friction between some unwilling team mates. But once the school year begins and the season starts, the now-integrated team find that they cannot take their unity for granted, such is the hostility that they meet from the townsfolk.
Coach Yoast even finds his dream of entering the Hall Of Fame under threat such is the level of persecution faced by the Titans, much to the disappointment of his precocious football-crazy daughter Sheryl. Putting the off-field troubles to one side, the Titans go on a remarkable unbeaten run that sends them to the State Championship final. Can the team overcome the loss of a star player, and Yoast and Boone overcome their differences in time to lift the trophy and help unite a disparate community? What do you think?
I wouldn't call the film totally heavy-handed in the delivery of its key message (we got to R-E-S-P-E-C-T each other, brutha) but it's not subtle either - the player's midnight jog to a misty Civil War graveyard is the narrative's equivalent of a sledge-hammer. Director Boaz Yakin has delivered a play-it-safe crowd pleaser, with even the profanity originally in the script excised to allow for a softer rating. Scenes showing us the bonding of the players are simplistically realised (in one scene they all take the mickey out of each other using the tried and trusted “your momma” gags) and we even get a long-haired “hippy” thrown in the team for good measure, just to show that it's not just black folk who are discriminated against. But it's the casting of Denzel Washington, in typically bullish mood as Coach Boone, which gives the movie its central anchor. With a lesser light in the role this would be just another movie-of-the-week, but with Denzel putting in another superb performance of a real-life character it actually becomes fairly entertaining.
Will Patton is good value as Coach Yoast, creating a man who has to swallow his pride in order to lead his team to glory, and coming out the better for it. However, his limelight is stolen by youngster Hayden Panettiere, who gives an intelligent performance as Yoast's young daughter Sheryl that belies her young years. The rest of the performers do a good job too, although Wood Harris lives up to his name with a stiff turn as Julius Campbell. Ryan Hurst is excellent as Gerry Bertier, projecting a maturity that makes you believe that this guy is team captain, and the lardy Ethan Suplee is worth a mention as the good-natured Louie Lastik, although you may wretch at one sugary-sweet scene of his late on in the film. Donald Faison also stands out as the under-achieving Petey Jones.
But true as the story may be (aside from the shamelessly soapy manipulation of a key player's injury that actually happened after the State final), this type of 'triumphing against the odds' film looks a little tired these days. I just couldn't shake the feeling that I'd seen it all before, from Rocky to 8-Mile, although thankfully it's delivered here with only a moderate amount of fromage. Trevor Rabin's Armageddon-lite score does add a distinct whiff of Bruckheimer's special brand of cheese though, and I find myself wondering that this could've been an enjoyably cheddar-riffic experience had the film-makers allowed themselves to cut loose a little more, especially regarding the dull Panavision cinematography.
You don't see many folk shooting in anamorphic these days, but on the evidence of this film it's hard not to see why, with a very flat, wide-open look that does little to render any sense of atmosphere. The in-game shots are depressingly routine, featuring little of the razzle-dazzle that a non-fan such as myself needs to feel involved in this mystifying sport (see Any Given Sunday), although the decent selection of soundtrack songs helped to get my feet tapping at least.
Remember the Titans is all very worthy, and sure to appeal to fans and historians of American Football. Our cousins across the Atlantic lapped it up to the tune of over $100 million dollars domestically, an impressive return from a budget of a mere $27 million. But I found the film, even in this slightly longer Director's Cut form, to be too safe and formulaic to get really excited about, although it's hard not to raise a smile at the team's inevitable triumph.