Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Boaz Yakin
Stars: Denzel Washington, Will Patton, Wood Harris, Ryan Hurst, Donald Faison, Kip Pardue, Craig Kirkwood, Ethan Suplee, Hayden Panettiere, Nicole Ari Parker, Ryan Golsing, Kate Bosworth, Earl C Poitier, Gregalan Williams, Marion Guyot.
There have been a number of films recently set around the world of American football (Oliver Stone’s gritty Any Given Sunday, the bland comedy The Replacements, etc). But Remember The Titans is one of the more enjoyable as it focuses on broader issues and has an emotional heart that goes beyond the brutal sport itself. Based on a true story, Remember The Titans is an optimistic and inspiring story of prejudice, integrity and honour that resonates strongly even for today’s audiences.
The film is set in 1971, a time when integration of black and white students in schools was a divisive issue. At T C Williams high school in Alexandria, Virginia, the issue was even more controversial, as the school was forced to replace the school’s popular football coach (Will Patton) with a black import from Carolina. Not only did incoming coach Herman Boone (Denzel Washington) have to deal with resentment and mistrust, but he also had to try and mold a group of unfocused, angry and confused adolescents into a winning football team. Boone was a hard and unforgiving taskmaster who pushed his charges, but his relentless methods were effective. But as the team began to bond and break down the natural barriers based on race and prejudice, the positive effects also began to flow over into the school and, eventually, the wider community itself.
According to writer Gregory Allen Howard (21 Jump Street, etc), the town of Alexandria is still one of the most socially integrated in America, and this, more than anything else, inspired him to research and write this story about the Titans and those momentous events that shaped a troubled America in a turbulent time. Remember the Titans is occasionally manipulative, as director Boaz Yakin lays on the sentimentality in a heavy-handed fashion, and the film sometimes suffers from a lack of subtlety. The film certainly lacks the edginess and hard-hitting quality of Yakin’s first directorial efforts (the brilliant Fresh, A Price Above Rubies), but there are still a number of subtle touches throughout.
However, Yakin is making a commercial, mainstream film that explores some important themes about racism and intolerance, and he aims to make it as non confronting as possible while still getting across his themes and messages. There are also some wonderful positives about that this film that will win most audiences over, including a great soundtrack of ’70’s rock that quickly sets the mood and establishes the atmosphere of the time. The grueling and brutal on field football action will also appeal to many, although the various tactics remain virtually incomprehensible to the uninitiated.
The performances of the youngsters, many of whom are new to feature films, are a mixture of enthusiasm and energy that lift the film. Washington brings an innate dignity and sense of intelligence to his role, which further establishes him as the Sidney Poitier of this generation, and he gives the movie much of its emotional power and restrained sense of outrage. But it is Patton, an always solid and reliable actor who rarely delivers a bad performance, who quietly steals the film as Yoast, a respected coach initially angry at being passed over for an outsider. His character undergoes the greatest change and experiences the biggest learning curve during the film. Patton’s restrained, understated performance eschews the usual histrionics, yet suggests this change in a manner that is quietly effective.