Wednesday, October 28, 2009

More Than a Game

A few years ago, film student Kristopher Belman heard that a local high school basketball team that was kicking ass and taking names. After managing to get in good with their tough coach, Belman soon found himself privy to all the footage he could tape. Games, locker room arguments, practices, road trips, sleepovers and on and on.

Belman had a sneaking suspicion that the team’s star player was going to make something big of himself. The player: LeBron James. The result of Belman’s taped footage: tender brilliance.

It’d be rough to edit down hundreds of hours of footage, and not have the focus be on the NBAs most popular player. But don’t worry, this movie isn't The LeBron James Story. Instead, Belman presents a heartfelt, honest portrait of five kids with immense talent, who still struggled with everyday adolescence.

Belman began taping the “Fab Five” of Akron, Ohio’s St. Vincent-St. Mary High School basketball team during their junior year season, several years after they had already been playing together. You can guess what happens for the most part. The high ups of teenaged stardom, the lows of surprise loses and disqualifications. But beyond the basketball, what really moves you are the individual stories behind each of the five players. There’s the coach’s son, a short kid with a fearless temper, the pudgy guy who was just as good at football, the loner who never fit in off the court and the star-maker who soon let fame get to his head.

The star of the film, however, is not the players, but their loyal, stern coach, Dru Joyce II, who took over after the previous coach moved up to college ball. Joyce talks often with admiration of his boys, but sometimes ventures into regret. When he speaks of his son (the hothead player), Joyce’s tone becomes remorseful, knowing he pushed him too hard as a player, and was hardly ever there as a Dad.

This is genuine, passionate filmmaking. It’s taking a chance on an idea, and following through with it, outcome be damned. More Than a Game ain’t no Hoop Dreams, but it does a damn good job living in its shadow. A-

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