Americana Movie Month: "Remember the Titans" Review


Americana Movie Month: "Remember the Titans" Review

-- Rating: PG
Length: 113 minutes
Release Date: Sept. 29, 2000
Directed by: Boaz Yakin
Genre: Drama, Biography, Sports

Racism is always a sticky subject to tackle in mainstream entertainment, especially when the audience includes young children who mostly want a few good laughs between bathroom breaks. With its biographical film "Remember the Titans," Disney gently explores the conflicts surrounding the desegregation of a Virginia high school in the early 1970s. Disney shamelessly excels at making inspirational sports movies that warm hearts and open wallets. Judging by its $20 million US opening weekend, "Remember the Titans" proved to be another winner.

The film portrays the newly integrated football team of T.C. Williams High School, where less-than-willing black and white students must now act as teammates. The head coach, Bill Yoast, is also asked to step aside for an incoming black coach, Herman Boone. Both coaches have excellent track records, and neither man actually wants the new role that is thrust upon him. Yoast, played by Will Patton, stays on as assistant coach to prevent the white players from defecting and ruining their chances at receiving college scholarships. Boone, portrayed by Denzel Washington, also considers turning down the job. He feels obligated to accept when his arrival proves to be uplifting to the local black community.

Washington and Patton make this film worth watching as their characters try to exist in separate spaces on the same team. They balance each other perfectly. Coach Boone is outwardly fearless and runs the team like a military unit. He knows any social progress the team makes in training camp will immediately be threatened once they leave. Coach Yoast steps in as the softer mentor who initially questions Boone's firmness but soon begins to see the necessity of it. At different times, each man provides the advice and motivation the team needs to become exceptional and stand firm against continued pressure from the greater community.

Despite the historical atmosphere it represents, "Remember the Titans" is meant to be a family movie, and the formula only allows a minimal dose of conflict. Instead of focusing on the spirit of aggression that kept two racial groups from learning to respect each other, the movie is more about the power of sports to overcome social ignorance. Themes of social division and racial discrimination are buried beneath bonding moments and moving speeches about football-although some of these moments use the sport as a metaphor for larger issues of equality.

Still, moviegoers of every age will laugh, clap, and weep at all the right moments. It's impossible to resist when the athletes are all played by charmingly funny actors, including Donald Faison, Kip Pardue, Ethan Suplee, Craig Kirkwood, and superstar Ryan Gosling. The movie takes on the feeling of a buddy comedy at times. After a rocky start, shared buffoonery quickly brings the players together as one unified family that's ready to face the less accepting community outside of their training camp. Stock characters are present in full force, ranging from the lovable hulk to the California-bred hippie to the endlessly upbeat Jesus lover.

The genuine bromance between co-captains Gerry Bertier and Julius Campbell is one area in which the movie shines. Much like their coaches, the two teenagers, played by Ryan Hurst and Wood Harris, become reluctant partners. In time, they learn to harness each other's strengths to drive their team to victory. Through this heartwarming relationship, the film safely navigates the racial aspect of the story. At several points, each boy recognizes the intelligence and youthful wisdom of the other; at one point, a fierce argument between them rapidly transforms into a useful exchange of athletic criticism.

The players are also forced to confront their vastly different realities when the black players are denied entry to a local business. In other scenes, a white player chooses to remain loyal to his black teammate, putting himself at odds with his mother and girlfriend. Every game the Titans win lowers the racial tension of the community. Well, that's how it seems in the film, anyway. At Disney's request, no doubt, writer Gregory Allen Howard and director Boaz Yoakin bend reality here and there to make the movie easy to swallow.

The final challenge, for instance, is framed as a do-or-die state championship against an ultra-racist coach, whereas the real-life event was a standard game. Of course, state semifinals leading up to a championship are more inspiring and pair nicely with the subplot that Boone will be fired if the team loses any games. The factual switch also gives Coach Yoast a ripe moment to decide his loyalties as the prospect of being added to the Hall of Fame is on the line. The lovely voice of reason behind many of Yoast's decisions is his pint-sized daughter Sheryl, played charismatically by young Hayden Panettiere.

Disney's executives are smart enough to know that difficult information is best delivered by adorable children, a gaggle of jokesters, and attractive Hollywood favorites. "Remember the Titans" combines all three and throws in a football championship as a bonus. Who wouldn't be inspired?

Rating: 3.5 out of 5