Hoosiers Movie Review
Hoosiers stars Gene Hackman as Norman Dale, a former successful college coach with a checkered past, who takes a last chance job coaching small Hickory High in 1951. Despite being located in basketball-crazed Indiana, the Huskers only have six players and they're missing their star, Jimmy Chitwood, a troubled boy who doesn't say much. His soft shooting touch does all of the talking.
Dale doesn't endear himself to the locals, dismissing the team's interim coach and a player in about two minutes during his first practice. He closes off practices, odd affairs in which the kids run and run and run, but never take a shot. After the team suffers a losing streak, the folks are on the verge of sending Dale home, until Jimmy steps in. He decides it's time to play, but on one condition: the coach stays. Then the winning begins, and it doesn't stop.
Hoosiers' story is can't miss -- small-town, underdog team makes an improbable run for the state championship -- but it features a rarity in a sports movie. The actors actually can play the sport, which gives the game scenes in Hoosiers a rarely seen realism. The athletic skills of the actors allows for limitless editing and cinematography possibilities. Director David Anspaugh (who promptly plunged into obscurity and now makes films like Wisegirls) takes full advantage, zooming in close to capture the pushing and shoving, using slow motion to capture graceful drives, and employing quick editing to capture the blinding pace. You get thrown into the rhythm of the game, and with the help of Jerry Goldsmith's rousing score, that will appeal to anyone with a pulse.
Another fatal flaw in many sports movies is the script. A classic example is White Men Can't Jump. The basketball scenes are well-shot and fun, but the repetitive, flaccid dramatic conflict between Woody Harrelson, Wesley Snipes, and Rosie Perez dooms it. Angelo Pizzo's script for Hoosiers is a masterpiece of economy and balance. He's able to reveal volumes about a character with one line, and by doing so he creates a portrait of a team and a town consumed with winning. Two examples: Dale's response after his assistant rants over his dismissal: "Leave the ball, will you, George." Shooter, the town drunk played with gusto by Dennis Hopper, sums up his sorry life with a two sentence story about missing a game-winning shot.
Hackman anchors the movie, and he delivers a great performance because you're with him every step of the way, even when he's firing employees like George Steinbrenner and causing strife in the small town. He finds the likable streak in what should be an unlikable man, which Barbara Hershey's schoolteacher also helps (rather redundantly) unearth. Hackman is such a commanding presence that you'll feel compelled to start dribbling a basketball in your living room. He's that good.
With a renewed life on DVD I'll bet Hoosiers gets bumped to classic status in another five years. It's just that good; a rare example when every reason we love watching movies comes together for two hours.
The DVD set of two discs includes half an hour of deleted scenes, a documentary about the real Hoosiers, commentary track, and the actual video of the 1954 Indiana high school championship basketball game.