By now, Jerry Bruckheimer has effectively cornered the market on the inspirational "based on a true story" sports drama and I thought Glory Road would be just the latest in a long line of them. Turns out I was right, but it also turns out that the film is vastly better than I initially pegged it. Every sports drama cliche takes its turn on center stage, but the film benefits from a tremendously entertaining cast of actors all led by Josh Lucas in his breakout role. Up to this point I'd considered him an acceptable non-face actor meaning he could hold his own but nothing he did made him stand out.
His portrayal of famed Texas Western coach Don Haskins is tremendous and Lucas brings a world weary gravitas to the role I didn't think he was capable of. Haskins uproots his family from Fort Worth where he coached high school girls basketball and moved them to El Paso, TX, for the chance to coach Division I college basketball. Since the shool was in the middle of nowhere and barely had an endowment for textbooks, Haskins had to recruit wisely. So he sent his scouts out into the field to track down the most talented and unsigned players he could find.
The majority of them were black, and it was to Haskins' eternal credit that he never once viewed them as such. He says right at the start that he doesn't see color. Instead he sees quickness, agility, and skill, all of which can lead the team to the big time if properly harnassed. The fact that all of this is conveyed in the first 20 minutes is a tribute to the economics of the storytelling because one thing Glory Road does is move. It may bob and weave here and there but the film always has its eye firmly on the glory the team would eventually achieve.
Even when the film falters three quarters of the way through it somehow manages to be entertaining. We can't imagine the racial hardships these young men must have gone through, but instead of doling it out throughout the film it seems that everything happens in a single restaurant scene where a player is assaulted in a bathroom while the white customers look away disapprovingly. Meanwhile the coach and players complain about how they're always treated poorly and such. We only see boos and jeers two or three times compared to the constant roars of approval from happy Texas Western crowds.
Of course, it all leads to the big showdown against Kentucky who is coached by a near unrecognizable Jon Voight. He hams things up a bit, but even under all that makeup he pulls a solid performance out too. The ending is never in doubt, and the movie is fun enough that you'll immediately switch on the extras once it's over. Watching Pat Riley (yes, that Pat Riley) talk about that climactic game with awe is beyond cool. Especially when you consider how Texas Western's big center dunked right over Riley's head to start the game off.
Glory Road may not have any surprises, but it's a very fun and well-made movie to just kick back and watch on an afternoon.