|© 2007 by C.E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.
The inspirational sports movie has been a
the television film BRIAN'S SONG as the
kick-off of the genre, one could easily go back
two generations or so to PRIDE OF THE
YANKEES, and undoubtedly someone will argue
an earlier effort. Whatever the case, the genre
is clearly here to stay and the latest entry is
PRIDE, the feature directorial debut for South
African actor and producer Sunu Gonera. Like
many efforts in this category of movies, PRIDE
is allegedly "based on a true story." Well, the
quartet of credited screenwriters did use a
real-life figure -- Philadelphia-based swim coach
Jim Ellis -- but they certainly played fast and
loose with the facts. That results in a bit of a
schizophrenic feature. And yet, I was caught up
in the tale mostly thanks to the sterling central
performance of Terrence Howard as Ellis.
The movie version depicts Ellis as a college
swim champ who faces racism at one meet. His
temper gets the best of him and the on-screen
Ellis is arrested. Several years later, after
completing college, we meet Ellis applying for a
job in the early 1970s at an elite private school
in the Main Line of Philadelphia. The school's
bigoted headmaster (Tom Arnold) refuses to hire
him. Ellis is desperate for work so he accepts a
position to clean out an inner city recreation
center which is set to be closed in a few
months. The surly custodian (Bernie Mac) isn't
all that happy to welcome Ellis but the pair
establish a wary, if uneasy, working
relationship. Discovering that the center has a
pool, Ellis cleans it out, fills it with water and
starts to swim.
When the basketball hoops are dismantled, Ellis
seizes on his chance and entices several young
men to cool off by going for a swim. When one
cocky youth challenges Ellis, the older man
struts his stuff and impresses the kids.
Eventually, they begin to train as a team (with
the addition of a female member). The newly
formed team enters competitions and learn
lessons about racism, and invoke Ellis' motto of
PDR: pride, determination and resilience.
Howard anchors the film with a charismatic turn.
He doesn't turn Ellis into a plaster saint but
portrays a complex and complicated man. Mac
does a nice job as his comic foil and proves that
he can handle dramatic moments as well. The
young team, however, is the usual grouping of
clichés and despite the efforts of the talented
cast, they really don't emerge as
three-dimensional characters but as plot figures.
Kimberly Elise is wasted in the requisite female
role -- a local councilwoman with ties to the
center and a brother on the swim team.
Despite its flaws, PRIDE is worth checking out,
mostly for Howard's terrific lead performance. It
does accomplish what it sets out to do and
offers an inspiring story that is moving and
Rating: B -
Running time: 104 mins.
MPAA Rating: PG for thematic material,
some racial epithets,
Viewed at the Broadway Screening Room
|L to R: Willie (Regine Nehy), Reggie (Evan Ross), Hakim
McAuley), Puddin Head (Brandon Fobbs) and Andre (Kevin
Photo credit: Saeed Adyani Courtesy: Lions Gate