Hoop Dreams


Hoop Dreams Review

Before Hoop Dreams, they didn't make documentaries like this. Non-fiction films were almost invariably a series of talking heads placed against a backdrop of some kind of studio drapery, intercut with archival footage. After 90 minutes, some critical, cultural subject (say, the Vietnam Memorial, the plight of undernourished children) would be illuminated -- with the goal of driving the audience to either run immediately for a museum or to make a donation to some relevant charity.

Hoop Dreams was something different: A three-hour film that documented the lives of two underprivileged black youths, William Gates and Arthur Agee, both trying to make it from high school and street pick-up games to college and eventually professional basketball. Filmmakers Peter Gilbert, Steve James, and Frederick Marx followed these "hoop dreams" for five long years, cutting a mountain of footage into what has become one of cinema's most beloved and enduring documentaries. (At the time, it was the highest grossing doc ever.)

The film is suitably engrossing as a sports film -- assuming you like to watch basketball and lots of it -- but Hoop Dreams is, of course, a commentary on society, the poor, and the difficulty of making it to pro sports. These two kids have nothing going for them -- and in the film's most heartbreaking scene -- Arthur's dad interrupts a game with his son to complete a drug deal, which is all captured coldly on camera.

Today, documentaries almost always follow the Hoop Dreams template, living alongside their subjects rather than putting them on a pedestal. For that alone, Hoop Dreams is a watershed picture. It is, unfortunately, still outrageously long for a film filled with what ends up being simple metaphors, and it's frequently repetitious. Perhaps the bigger problem is that Gates and Agee never seem to understand that they're never going to make it. Agee, for example is still trying to launch a "Hoop Dreams" clothing line, 11 years after the movie. Dreams was breathtaking in its day; today it's starting to look a little tired as it runs into multiple overtimes.

The new Criterion edition features two commentary tracks, including one from a reunited Agee and Gates.

Hoop Dreams

Facts and Figures

Run time: 170 mins

In Theaters: Friday 14th October 1994

Box Office Worldwide: $7.8M

Budget: $700 thousand

Distributed by: Fine Line Features

Production compaines: Fine Line Features


Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 98%
Fresh: 48 Rotten: 1

IMDB: 8.3 / 10

Cast & Crew


Starring: as Himself, as Himself, as Narrator