Glory Road has its share of clichés and is fairly one dimensional character-wise, but nonetheless surprises as an absorbing film. It’s the story of how the 1966 Texas Western Miners won the NCAA Basketball Championship with an all-black team. Led by an upstart coach, Don Haskins (Josh Lucas), the team faced extreme intolerance throughout their championship run. Derek Luke co-stars as star point guard and team leader Bobby Joe Hill. Glory Road does an excellent job recreating the racial injustice of that era. Similar films have addressed this issue, but failed to illustrate what those times were really like for black athletes. This film delivers the message and is entertaining to boot. It has some of the best editing I’ve ever seen in a sports film. Director James Gartner really captures the frenetic pace and excitement of the games.
The chemistry between the lead actors is also very good. While the film focuses primarily on racial themes, the players are seen facing these obstacles together. It reinforces their bonds and contributes to their success on the court. The white players on the team do get some screen time. And the film does not gloss over the antagonism between the different races as they come together. What it could have done better was define these characters. After a while, the white players become just faces in the crowd. They are seen, but heard and are given nothing to do. While Glory Road is primarily the story of the black players, it would have been more interesting to have the white characters explored as well.
Racism is front and center in the film. Director James Gartner does not shy away from the bigotry the team faced. It’s in this sense that Glory Road really succeeds. It depicts a time that most people have no concept of. Racial slurs are constantly hurled at the players, along with food, fists, and death threats. Those were ugly times and the film dramatically captures it.
The pace of the film drags at points, but pick up with the excellent shooting of the basketball games. Ever game gets progressively better and incorporates a myriad of camera angles. Gartner and his editing team do a great job here. They get creative with their shot choices and it adds real style to the film.
Glory Road is not on par with the great sports films, but is a worthwhile attempt to match them. It has the right ingredients but comes up a little short. That said, it’s definitely worth seeing and is easily the best choice of new releases this weekend.