How can a skilled black basketball player from the Bronx be the best writer at an elite Manhattan private school? You may call this Gus Van Sant’s spiritual New York sequel to Good Will Hunting, confronting stereotypes and prompting us not to judge books by their covers.
Jamal (Rob Brown), the phenom in question, develops an unlikely friendship with a well-known Scottish novelist recluse (Sean Connery), who comes to be a mentor to the 16-year old. Even though Jamal has a basketball in practically every scene, the climax swaps the court for the classroom, where it’s clear a Pulitzer is in his future.
Glory Road starts with archival footage of revolutionizing times. It’s the mid-60s and times are changing at Texas Western University, where Don Haskins (Josh Lucas) comes to take over the basketball program. Without recruiting help, he discovers seven black players, with no chance to go to college, to fill up his squad.
Through the Miners’ practically undefeated season, they undergo all sorts of resistance to integration, which comes to a boil when Haskins makes history by starting five African-American players in the National Championship game. Nothing shocks here, and nothing really upsets, in this expertly made retrospective.
Think about Remember the Titans on a basketball court, Coach Carter relishes every inch of Samuel L. Jackson as the dictatorial head coach that takes over an apathetic team and changes its entire culture with some strict, well-intentioned rules and caustic temperament.
Based on the real Ken Carter, who notably locked out his 1999 Richmond High School team from playing until its grades went up, the film embraces the tension of academic integrity and winning expectations. Come for Jackson’s burns, remain for Rick Gonzalez quoting Marianne Williamson and melting your heart.