Three Sports Movies from MGM
Hoosiers (October 13/05)
Hoosiers casts Gene Hackman as Norman Dale, a coach with a checkered past who arrives in a small Indiana town to train the local high school basketball team. His unorthodox methods initially meet with severe disapproval from the townspeople, though their views start to change once Dale begins to elicit winning performances from his players. Director David Anspaugh sets the mood almost immediately, effectively establishing this close-knit community and their seemingly unanimous passion for basketball. And though there are virtually no surprises held within Angelo Pizzo's screenplay, it's awfully difficult not to fall under the spell of this admittedly compelling story (Anspaugh and Pizzo prove to be perfectly suited to this sort of manipulative material). Above all else, though, Hoosiers succeeds thanks to Hackman's superb performance; the actor does a fantastic job of stepping into Dale's shoes, imbuing the character with precisely the right mix of strictness and heart. The supporting cast, which includes Barbara Hershey and Dennis Hopper, is just as effective, while the feel-good conclusion is almost impossible to resist. In the end, despite a few flaws (ie a slight case of overlength and a pace that's occasionally a tad too deliberate), it's easy enough to see why Hoosiers has become one of the most endearing sports movies in cinematic history.
Madison (September 23/05)
Based on a true story, Madison follows down-on-his-luck mechanic Jim McCormick (Jim Caviezel) as he attempts to turn around a decades-old losing streak and bring a coveted hydroplane trophy back to his small town. It's not terribly difficult to predict exactly where Madison is going to go through its 99-minute running time, as the film's storyline follows an exceedingly familiar trajectory. Of course, the same could be said of most sports movies that emphasize the underdog; the problem emerges when it becomes increasingly clear that director and co-writer William Bindley isn't going to deviate from the formula even a little bit. Caviezel is extremely effective, however, and does a nice job of turning Jim into a figure worth rooting for (despite his often anti-social tendencies). But the movie just isn't as gripping or involving as one imagines it's supposed to be, though it seems clear that viewers with some knowledge of the real-life events will get more out of this story.
Swimming Upstream (May 30/05)
Swimming Upstream is admittedly a well-made and nicely acted film, yet the film is never quite able to shake off the feeling of utter mediocrity. The story, revolving around an athlete who triumphs despite a series of obstacles, just feels routine and banal; this is the kind of tale we've seen countless times before, something that's exacerbated by the fact that screenwriter Anthony Fingleton doesn't have anything new or innovative to offer. Based on Fingleton's own experiences as a world-class swimmer, the film follows Fingleton (played by Jesse Spencer) as he overcomes his father's (Geoffrey Rush) physical and mental abuse to become a champion. Swimming Upstream is peppered with overly melodramatic moments and exceedingly broad performances, and though director Russell Mulcahy offers up some intriguing visuals, the film never quite feels like anything more than a standard made-for-television production. Admittedly, the movie does improve as it progresses (once it focuses on Fingleton's successes, rather than his father's drunken mishaps), but it's just not enough to negate the ineffectiveness of everything that's come prior.