There’s nothing inherently wrong with Glory Road, but even the most mainstream of moviegoers has to be a little let down that it didn’t try any harder. Jerry Bruckheimer’s newest attempt at family entertainment with a message is much like his last attempt, Remember the Titans. That film was well liked and successful, much like Glory Road will be, and dealt with suspiciously similar themes. If Glory Road wasn’t based on true events, Bruckheimer would be getting blasted for ripping off his own work. But it is a true story, and an amazing one at that.
In 1966, unknown basketball coach Don Haskins (played here efficiently and honestly by Josh Lucas) recruited black players from around the country for his team at Texas Western, and led them to the NCAA finals, where they met all-white perennial powerhouse Duke. Haskins started five black players in the game for the first time ever, an especially meaningful event taking into consideration Duke’s legendary and possibly racist coach, Adolph Rupp (another great small role from Jon Voight).
The story is undeniably great, and first time director James Gartner, with help from an impressive cast, does an adequate job turning it into a fairly exciting, well made movie. The only complaints against it deal with its watering down of the subject matter, and turning what was almost definitely a much more complex story into a nice and tight Hollywood package.
Bruckheimer, renowned for decidedly un-family action movies like Crimson Tide and Bad Boys, has turned into a very successful producer of all-ages fare lately, with Pirates of the Caribbean and National Treasure among his latest hits. Glory Road fits nicely into that arena, and Bruckheimer, in town as part of a long publicity tour, saw definite connections between his action and family films.
“I love the emotional trials,” he said about transitioning from the likes of Armageddon to Glory Road. “I also love dealing with the transportation. We transport you emotionally.”
Bruckheimer is without a doubt one of the most successful producers ever, and also one of the most hated by so-called “artsy” film people. His films are criticized as too mainstream, not serious or challenging enough. It’s true that his work rarely wins awards outside of technical and people’s choice categories, but yet they continue to make money, and talented people want to work with him, even if it does result in another high-budget popcorn flick.
Love him or hate him, Bruckheimer is a serious presence. At the Glory Road press day in Miami, reporters spoke fairly casually with Lucas about preparing to play Haskins, and talked to Antwone Fisher star Derek Luke about being discovered by Denzel Washington. Two of the actors playing members of the Texas Western team, Al Shearer (Punk’d) and Mehcad Brooks (Desperate Housewives), burst into an impressive and hilarious two-man ballet routine when some easy-listening music was accidentally piped into the interview room. The mood was light all around, following a jam-packed preview screening the night before, in which the film played to a crowd of several hundred in Aventura.
Later in the day, reporters sat down with Bruckheimer, unsure of what to expect, spoke politely and openly to a table of young people, even when the topics veered away from the movie he was trying to sell and on to what other movies he wanted to see (Harry Potter) and where the future of movies was headed (more digital, more special effects).
Still, even when he doesn’t mean to be, Bruckheimer’s mere presence is intimidating. He is Hollywood, and either fortunately or unfortunately, depending who you ask, so is Glory Road. Bruckheimer did with Glory Road what he always does, by assembling a good cast and crew and churning out a very solid movie. In this case though, the source material could have resulted in something deeper and more meaningful. But this, of course, is not Bruckheimer’s fault. It was simply never his intention.
Shawn Wines can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.