Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5. United Kingdom/USA, 1986. De Haven Productions, Hemdale. Screenplay by Angelo Pizzo. Cinematography by Fred Murphy. Produced by Carter DeHaven, Angelo Pizzo. Music by Jerry Goldsmith. Production Design by David Nichols. Costume Design by Jane Anderson. Film Editing by Carroll Timothy O’Meara. Academy Awards 1986. Golden Globe Awards 1986. Independent Spirit Awards 1986.
Gene Hackman plays a basketball coach with a dubious past who shows up in the tiny Indiana town of Hickory to coach a team whose school has less than a hundred students. He gets a bit of attitude from his players at first, but that’s nothing compared with the resistance he gets from the town’s adults: the other men think there’s no need to improve the way they have always run their game, while hard-edged high school teacher Barbara Hershey wants him to leave the team’s star player alone so that he can pursue his studies and find his way out of their hopeless corner of the world. There’s also Dennis Hopper as the town drunk, once a star on the court himself who now embarrasses his son by staggering around shouting about his glory days. Hopper is given a second chance by Hackman, who eventually makes himself welcome as he pulls the team together and starts to inspire hope that he will get Hickory to the state championship. Based on a true story, this is an exemplary sports film that throws up its high stakes immediately upon opening, placing you right into the centre of exciting conflict with the strong personalities it presents. A few plot strands left dangling (such as the aforementioned golden boy’s future) don’t cause any concern since what is actually shown is so finely directed and performed. The atmosphere of the beautiful, tranquil landscape provides a rich contrast with the intense action on the basketball court, which itself is nothing compared to the personalities that clash outside the game.