Hoosiers(MGM Home Entertainment, 3.1.2005)
Hoosiers is the best sports movie ever made because of what it's not. It's not edited like an MTV rap video. It's not written like one of those inspirational Hallmark posters with a puppy bounding up Everest. It's not naive about what a really, really important game can and can't do for the people involved. And it's not flashy.
On his commentary track with writer/producer Angelo Pizzo, director David Anspaugh notes how, with time and money scarce, he had to scrap plans for multi-angle coverage on a locker room scene for one long, unbroken, unfettered take that says everything about the coach (Gene Hackman), his distance from his players, their disappointment and irritation with him, and at what happened on the court.
That happy accident falls right into place with the rest of the film. Its simple, down-to-earth aesthetic inspires a purer ideal of sport, one without cynicism, one that glories in the fables athletes write for themselves, one that can redeem lost men, like Hackman and a devastating Dennis Hopper, and build new ones out of boys, if only for a moment.
Another thing that Hoosiers aint is perfect. Anspaugh and Pizzo first envisioned a movie about Indiana's most sacred sports myth -- little Milan High School improbably running the table for the 1954 State Championship -- while at Indiana University together. Tinkering with Pizzo's screenplay, filming, and editing to a mandated two hours strained their friendship and you can detect some lingering testiness during the commentary track and deleted scene introductions.
Hoosiers shows some scuff marks, such as a booted player returning without explanation and a montage-happy second half but the filmmakers seem most troubled about Barbara Hershey, playing a teacher whose relationship with Hackman suffered the biggest cuts. The deleted scenes, however, suggest that the two hour ceiling might be another happy accident. They're all scrap and what makes Hackman and Hershey's scenes together interesting is that they're awkward and unfulfilled, squeezing in some intimacy right where these people would: between games and between classes.
The special features disc also includes a nice documentary about the Milan squad that inspired Hackman's Hickory Huskers but the recent Friday Night Lights disc digs deeper into the transition from reality to screen. More fun and informative is a tape of the actual 1954 Championship game, a surprisingly watchable 32-30 barnburner proving that sometimes the truth is every bit as uplifting as the fiction. -- Joey Tayler