Review No. 422
The Bottom Line: Hoosiers: A True Underdog Story.
Directed by: David Anspaugh
Written by: Angelo Pizzo
Coach Norman Dale: Gene Hackman
Myra Fleener: Barbara Hershey
Shooter: Dennis Hopper
Cletus: Sheb Wooley
Jimmy Chitwood: Maris Valainis
Merle: Kent Poole
Rade: Steve Hollar
Buddy: Brad Long
Ollie: Wade Schenck
Also Starring: Brad Boyle, David Neidorf, Fern Persons, Scott Summers
Distributed by Orion Pictures and Hemdale Pictures on November 14, 1986. Produced in English by the United States. Runs 115 mins. Rated PG by the MPAA (mature themes; violence; language).
Hoosiers was watched on February 17, 2013.
“Forget about the crowds, the size of the school, their fancy uniforms, and remember what got you here. Focus on the fundamentals that we’ve gone over time and time again. And most important, don’t get caught up thinking about winning or losing this game.” –Coach Norman Dale (Gene Hackman)
It’s difficult to find a sports movie that’s not uplifting, even in the slightest sense of the word. I’ve seen more sports movies than I can physically count, and I can come up with merely two examples that go against this grain. One is Raging Bull, Martin Scorsese’s psychosocial shredding of an aggressive and dedicated boxer. The other, Bull Durham, a goofy but nonetheless straightforward sex comedy about the groupie for a minor league baseball team.
Hoosiers does conform, but it conforms like almost no other movie. In the end, I was left with one small but somewhat meaningful question:
Why were the stadiums so packed? We learn in one scene that there are 63 male undergraduates at the small town high school Hoosiers focuses on squarely, which probably means no more than 130 students total attend. My own high school has something between eleven- and thirteen-hundred undergraduates, yet the stadiums at our basketball games aren’t much more packed than the ones we see in Hoosiers.
Now let’s suppose the head count was lesser. Empty a single seat seat and I can’t imagine being so easily captivated by Hoosiers. The film tells a simple story that we’ve likely heard already, one you wouldn’t so easily cheer for if you didn’t feel the need to cheer. The year is 1951, and a basketball coach, Norman Dale (Gene Hackman), was fired twelve years ago for an aggravated assault on one of his students. Now he’s brought back–temper and all–to coach the crumbling basketball team at Hickory High School. And the team surely isn’t one to instantly skyrocket to the top. The renowned player of the team has left because his father has died. The coach has an anger issue that keeps him from a good number of games. The team can’t function as one unit.
Yet despite all this, there’s no question that Dale will succeed in coaching the team to win, win, win. It’s the plague of nearly every sports movie. Without overly spoiling too many endings: You watch Jerry Maguire, and you know from the moment Tom Cruise lays eyes on Renée Zellweger that they’ll be a couple by the end. You watch Rocky, and every training scene only makes you more sure that he will beat Apollo. Hell, you watch Dodgeball–which I do, deep down, consider a “sports movie”–and it’s always clear the Average Joes will win.
We all know that it doesn’t always happen this way. As I understand it, the majority of sports studies work by handing us weak underdog characters, and then moving forward to show how they are determined to succeed. A sudden loss at the very end would entirely kill off the message.
And despite ending on a predictable note, the climactic scenes in Hoosiers are some of the most dynamic a sports drama has ever delivered. I wouldn’t say I felt inspired by the film in a literal sense, since never would I ever play basketball by choice. I did, however, feel involved during quite a few scenes.
Hoosiers is flawed here and there. It’s not too unconventional in how it tells its “feel good” story, especially when that was “based on a true story.” But I do feel like I got something out of this one, and I did feel good in the end. The alternative is a story so banal and unrealistic that you feel cheated; Hoosiers offered far more slam dunks than technical fouls.