PG for thematic content, violence and language involving racism, and for brief sensuality.
October 10, 2008
Drama, Adaptation, Biopic and Sports
Dennis Quaid, Rob Brown, Omar Benson Miller, Charles S. Dutton, Aunjanue Ellis
Charles Leavitt (screenwriter), Robert C. Gallagher (biography, "Ernie Davis: The Elmira Express, the Story of a Heisman Trophy Winner")
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By Chris Carpenter
CBN.com Program Director
Whenever I see an inspirational sports movie I am always wary that it could very easily fall into predictable, formulaic patterns – the overachieving underdog overcomes the greatest of odds to become a champion. For every Raging Bull and Rocky there have been far too many Invincible and Glory Road productions.
While utilizing many of the tried and true recipes that make sports movies work, The Express exceeded my expectations.
The Express is based on the real life story of Ernie Davis (nicknamed “The Elmira Express”), the first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy, the highest individual honor a player can achieve in the collegiate ranks.
Born in 1939, Davis was raised in a hard-scrabble Pennsylvania coal mining town by a loving grandfather who saw a better day coming for African-Americans in the years ahead. During his adolescent years Davis moved to Elmira, New York to live with his mother and stepfather. He quickly rose to prominence as a superstar athlete before being recruited by Syracuse University to play football in 1959. His task was not an easy one – replace football legend Jim Brown at running back while battling racism at every turn.
While there is certainly an abundance of football on display throughout, the movie focuses on the mutually beneficial, sometimes complicated relationship between Davis and Syracuse head coach Ben Schwartzwalder (Dennis Quaid). Charismatic yet humble, Rob Brown (Finding Forrester) portrays Davis as a young man greatly affected by the civil rights movement of the time yet realizes integrity and dignity will ultimately overcome all prejudice. Despite falling into the classic stereotype of the gruff, crusty coach who really does care, Quaid does a commendable job of tackling perhaps the movie’s toughest role. Schwartzwalder was a man who overcame his own prejudices to integrate a team in the face of racially motivated violence on and off the field.
Perhaps the most pivotal moments of the movie come in two featured football games pitting Syracuse against West Virginia and Texas. The scenes are at once unnerving but far more important they symbolize a genuine feeling for the historical importance of the time.
From a Christian perspective, I was heartened by a family dinner scene where young Davis’s grandfather (Charles Dutton) shared the Scripture passage I Corinthians 15:10. Some would call this a heavy handed touch but the verse became quite symbolic of the life Ernie Davis would eventually lead.
One would be hard pressed to find someone who had more heart than Ernie Davis. Likewise, it would be even more difficult to find a movie with better intentions than The Express.
Ernie Davis on Wikipedia
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