He Got Game (1998)
I admit that I approached this film, not knowing much about it, with low expectations, afraid it might be a sports movie (not my favourite film genre). What I saw, however, was an emotionally involving, at times powerful, study of the contentious relationship between a father and his son.
Written and directed by Spike Lee, basketball plays a key lynch pin in this relationship but the film is not about the sport, per se. Ray Allen plays a basketball high school player who is the nation's top recruit (he's already a star in his neighbourhood) who must choose which university he will attend (and they all want him).
But Allen is also a mature young man who has raised his young sister by himself after his father is sent to prison for the death of his mother. The father, played by Denzel Washington, receives an offer from the state governor, a basketball fanatic, to shorten his sentence if he can convince his son to go to the governor's alma mater.
Washington is released (with two tough security personnel watching his every move) back into society for one week in an attempt to influence his son's decision. The problem, though, is that the son wants nothing to do with the father following the death of his mother.
The sensitivity and intelligence of the film's screenplay makes for an involving film of human emotions. But the film also shows the leeches, exploiters and temptations that can surround a star athlete, even so emotionally grounded a one as that played by Allen here. Allen, by the way, is an NBA player who can really act in a completely convincing portrayal.
Milla Jovovich also appears as a pimp abused hooker to whom Washington extends a sympathetic hand.
Washington delivers a beautifully controlled understated performance, the power of his emotions just beneath the surface. One of the film's most memorable scenes is that in which the emotionally stoic father visits the grave of his wife for the first time in years. In just a few seconds of screen time Spike Lee powerfully conveys the depth of this man's true feelings for his wife.
It's a long film at well over two hours, perhaps my chief grievance with it. Nevertheless, I would highly recommend He Got Game as strong dramatic fare. The on location shooting (Chicago, I believe) brings great credibility to the tale.
This is the most recent in a series of Denzel Washington films I have viewed for the first time. I was not disappointed. He's an actor who continues to supply me with unyielding treasures, some big, some small, when viewing his performances.
3 out of 4.