For some (let’s say “inexplicable,” which is significantly gentler than the first “i” word I thought to put there) reason, whenever the rich cinematic world of the Cliché-Riddled Inspirational Sports Movie (C-RISM) is mentioned in my presence, the first film that comes to mind is Hoosiers. Every single time. Without exception.
High school basketball is king in small-town Indiana, and the 1954 Hickory Huskers are all hope and no talent. But their new coach, abrasive and unlikable Norman Dale, whips the team into shape … while also inciting controversy.
Yeah, I cringed a little when I heard the booming, Voice-of-God intoning that “They needed a second chance to finish first” line, but it’s a sports movie, right? Cliches are not just along for the ride, they’re the very fabric from which a sports film’s life-blood is hewn. Or…um…something.
Ebert made a fine point in his review, I thought, when he said that “The climax of the movie will come as no great surprise to anyone who has seen other sports movies. Hoosiers works a magic, however, in getting us to really care about the fate of the team and the people depending on it.” It transcends its clichés; it purifies them.
Hackman’s excellent (as ever), Hopper’s a scene-stealer (which is probably why he got an Oscar nomination), and Fred Murphy’s cinematography is gratifyingly golden and Small-Town America-y. (If you can’t beat Conrad Hall, join him, I always say. Also, no one can beat CH.) The basketball is a bit underwhelming, perhaps, but all in all, it’s a very solidly made and highly enjoyable film.
And who can’t get behind that combination on a Friday night?
You know what is undeniably great, though? Its soundtrack. From the legendary Jerry Goldsmith, the Oscar-nominated score for this film is atypically electric — at least for Jerry — and fantastically propulsive. (That last characteristic is particularly important when it comes to sports films, methinks.) Just give a listen to “The Pivot.” If that doesn’t get your blood going… …maybe you should try Goldsmith’s work on his other cinematic collaboration with director David Anspaugh, the #2 film on my “Most Quickly-Remembered C-RISM” list: Rudy. (You could watch that one, too, if you’d like. It’s on NETFLIX INSTANT.)
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