Don Haskins may not be as well-known as Jackie Robinson, Jim Brown, or other historical figures that have helped integrate sports with black players, but the impact that Haskins had on college basketball is arguably more significant than any coaching strategy could have possibly introduced, and it’s those events for which Haskins was at the helm that unfold in Glory Road, which some have unfairly labeled as producer Jerry’s Bruckheimer’s basketball equivalent to Remember the Titans.
Written by freshmen screenwriters Chris Cleveland and Bettina Gilois and directed by another first-time director in James Gartner, Haskins (Josh Lucas, Hulk) is comes to Texas Western as a successful women’s high school basketball coach, and his wife Mary (Emily Deschanel, Bones) is in tow. The challenge for Haskins is to create a winning basketball program and he decides not only to recruit out of state, but also actively recruits black players, a then-unprecedented step in college athletics. Among the players that Haskins manages to bring to the team are Bobby Joe Hill (Derek Luke, Antwone Fisher), Nevil Shed (Al Shearer, Honey) and Orsten Artis (Alphonso McAuley, Fat Albert).
The team bristles to their coach’s ways at first, but as they accept them, they enjoy new success, including a very high national ranking and a chance to play for the National Championship tournament. They make it through the tournament (including a controversial overtime win against Kansas), and play a juggernaut Kentucky ballclub that included a young guard named Pat Riley, and an established coaching legend in Adolph Rupp (Jon Voight, Runaway Train). With virtually no chance to win, Haskins and his group of five black starters beat the Kentucky team to win the National Championship and forever change the scope of college athletics.
Now just like any other docudrama or film that dramatizes historical events, it’s to be sure that some liberties are taken with some of the things in the film. But in the world of movies, you do have to suspend disbelief, even if it means creating some dramatic tension in the midst of a presumably easy game to win for the good guys. Does it mean Glory Road is a bad movie? No, in fact, it’s not too bad, and worth watching to celebrate the 40th anniversary of breaking the college sports color barrier.
Glory Road comes to life in the 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation, preserving its theatrical presentation. The film itself is presumably made to appear a little bit weathered, so even subliminally there are some sepia tones through the film. But what few colors that appear aside from browns, whites and blacks stand out pretty well, and the blacks appear pretty deep consistently during the 100 or so minutes.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is OK, but I was expecting a little more immersive sound experience, even with the songs that are peppered through the film. As it stands, everything sounds pretty clear, even if surround activity is at a minimum.
For a relatively unheralded film, there are quite a few extras on it, starting with two (count ‘em) commentary tracks. The first is with Bruckheimer and Gartner, and quite frankly, those two sounded so similar to each other than when one stopped and the other started, it was hard to tell, and frankly, I think Gartner picked up on that and started to provide a soft introduction for Bruckheimer. Altogether, there’s not much gained in the way of production detail, despite Gartner talking about working with the actors, or identifying deleted scene cuts, or even the real people of the film. They also highlight what was real and what was embellished. All in all, it was rather tedious to sit through. The second commentary with writers Chris Cleveland and Bettina Gilois wasn’t much better, other than they had some more intimate knowledge of the real people which they shared. But this film was screaming for a commentary with the surviving players and Haskins, so why isn’t it here?
Moving on, there’s five deleted scenes that total about six minutes in run time, and most are pretty passable. Next is “The Legacy of the Bear”, in which former players past and present, along with friends, talk about Haskins and what kind of coach he was before he got to the college, and what kind of coach he was in his career, seeing as how he retired over three decades after the landmark win. It’s a quick, but fond look at the man behind the “Bear” nickname. The longest extra of the bunch is “In Their Own Words”, which is the much-needed historical look at the events from the players who were a part of them. Aside from “surviving practice”, which players talk about the brutality of a typical Haskins practice, the only other thing on the disc is a music video(?) by Alicia Keys.
While Glory Road may not be another Hoosiers, it certainly has its moments and its story is more than worthy of being retold. The historical inaccuracies are fairly forgivable, and there’s an adequate amount of extra features that make it a rental for those unfamiliar with how things went down on a sleepy night in 1966.