Movie of the Day – Hoosiers
August 28, 2011 2 Comments
So I don’t cover or talk a lot about sports movies, except for the fictional sport of rollerball, and it is mainly out of this notion that most, if not all sports movies are rather formulaic. It’s always about the underdog team, scraping and fighting for a chance to make it to the big show and that one final motivational speech to push them into the stratosphere of excellence. We watch them achieve the impossible and cheer for their victory over the odds, whether that overcoming a tough opponent or some other social injustice that plagues the team. You can see why I am not much of a fan of a genre of film that follows the same story format that most love stories follow. Now this doesn’t mean I go out of my way to avoid sports movies, I will sit down and watch one if the right actors and story are present in the movie. Sometimes I just can’t avoid watching them because my dad really loves inspirational sports movies and I see a lot of movies with him. There is one in particular that I chose today for the resonance that it had on me and if I had to choose a great sports movie, this is it.
Norman Dale (Gene Hackman) arrives in the small town of Hickory, Indiana to take up a position as a high school teacher and basketball coach. Like most small towns in rural America. Norman Dale has a big task ahead of him with the school’s basketball team and the small number of players. His unorthodox coaching method causes the town to question his tactics as it is slower defense focused and produces few results. Also his temper starts to get the better of him, being ejected from several games. The town comes together and tries to vote Dale out of his position, until the towns best player (sitting the season out) decides he wants to play only if Dale coaches. The team becomes unstoppable with the team essentially working as a team. They arrive at the final championship game against South Bend and face long odds for a victory.
You have a misunderstood coach with an unusual coaching style, small town basketball team that hasn’t won anything major in years, a town that thrives on basketball, and a ragtag team of players. You can replace basketball with football, baseball, curling, whatever and you have just about the standard layout of a sports movie. While I criticize the genre a lot, there is something uplifting about sports movies when they take the long odd gamble of bringing a young team to the big time. It’s that underdog story we are all so familiar with and can get cheering towards the end of the movie. Now I am not saying that Hoosiers had me out of my seat, hollering for Chitwood to make the final basket of the game or for Coach Dale to deliver that stirring speech to get us pumped for the final game, but it is elements of these actions that make for a compelling movie.
I think about why this movie has such a resonance with me is that at its heart is a true underdog story. The movie has you invested in the players and the dilemma of the coach who must find a way to make what he has work. It’s that tough love, father figure that Coach Dale has that makes a large impact in all of us. He pushes the pushes the team to the limit of their abilities, but all the while keeping them in check in that it is only a game. Dale puts the game into perspective for the players when they get to the big game, with one of my favorite lines of the movie:
10 Feet, the same measurement back at the gym in Hickory. It’s a simple line that explains a lot about the movie and why it is has such impact. It doesn’t play up the big task of a championship game because when you look at from Dale’s perspective, it’s another game. The place, the importance don’t matter, it’s another game. I can see why a lot of critics and lists put Hoosiers near the top of the greatest sports movies. It is honest in what it is trying to tell us, it explains sports not in an individual aspect, but that the team is more important than one man. The final pre-game speech is also one of the best speeches to be given in a sports movie because it strips down all the things that build up this basketball hype. It’s doesn’t matter where the team is from, how good they are, who the best players are or what the uniforms look like. If you play the game you love and play it to the best of your ability, that is all that counts on the court.
I am not going to give my whole speech about if you haven’t seen it, see it. If you are a sports fan, you have already probably seen the movie on your own accord or, if you are like me, seen it because of your father. It’s that tough love feeling you get when you want to succeed, but need to remember that you play because you love to and that is all the matters. In the pantheon of sports movies, this is by far the best out there.