Director: Sunu Gonera
Cast: Terrence Howard, Bernie Mac, Kimberly Elise, Tom Arnold, Brandon Fobbs, Alphonso McAuley, Regine Nehy, Nate Parker, Kevin Phillips, Evan Ross, Gary Anthony Sturgis
MPAA Rating: (for thematic material, language including some racial epithets, and violence)
Running Time: 1:44
Release Date: 3/23/07
Review by Mark Dujsik
I have seen Pride now too many times without actually seeing it. If horror movies make up the most overdone genre coming out of the Hollywood marketplace, then inspirational, based-on-true-events sports dramas are in a distant second. As soon as the title "Inspired by a true story" pops up on the screen with the strains of rousing music over the soundtrack, it's pretty much a done deal as to what we can expect from the movie. The formula of the underdogs playing for their own glory and something larger than themselves while facing off against personal hardships only to achieve what they sought has been done to death. I repeat: There is a formula to this. The folks who make these movies rely on a certain naiveté on the part of the audience. If something is based on a true story—they argue—then what happens isn't formulaic. If you happen to be of nature to fall for the ruse, well, I hate to be the one to burst your Hollywood dreamland bubble, but that's a load of codswallop. Pride follows the formula to the letter. It doesn't distinguish itself from it in any way, but as is the case with most of these movies, that doesn't make it terrible—just uninspired.
Our determined hero with something to prove is Jim Ellis (Terrence Howard). In 1964, he was arrested after assaulting a cop who tried to kick him out of a swim meet after the other, white participants humiliated him by not even bothering to compete against him. In Philadelphia in 1974 (or "Ten years later," the movie so graciously tells us—duh), Ellis has a job interview for a teaching position at Main Line Academy, but his interviewer, nicknamed "The Bink" (Tom Arnold), "frankly" tells him they want someone who can communicate with their students—in other words, someone white. Seeking employment with the city (after lying about his arrest record), he's given a job to help clean out the Philadelphia Department of Recreation's center in the inner city before it's torn down. This is the first Elston (Bernie Mac) has heard of the city's plan, and he's worked at the center since it opened. Ellis cleans out the pool one day, and after their basketball rims are taken away, five regulars (Kevin Phillips, Nate Parker, Evan Ross, Brandon Fobbs, and Alphonso McAuley) come in for a swim. Ellis teaches them to swim properly, and along with a girl (Regine Nehy), they form a swim team.
They get cocky and lose their first meet to Bink's Main Line team, amid the whispers of the all-white crowd (a woman pulls her purse closer; someone assumes it must be some kind of protest), but not before one Main Line swimmer kicks one the PDR's in the face. Even though Bink admits to the stupidity of the move, it only results in a convoluted piece of dialogue about respect between Ellis and Bink that makes as much sense as the coach admitting that one of his swimmers kicked an opponent in the face without the team suffering any repercussions. The whole ordeal of course means it's a montage where their training gets harder, Ellis yelling things like, "It's not about being tired; it's about being strong," and "When your legs get tired, let your heart do the rest." Inspirational speeches abound, and it gets to the point that the movie actually thinks a scene of dueling inspirational speeches can be taken seriously. Thankfully, Terrence Howard's sentimental but genuine performance (a spontaneous hug is the movie's single honest moment) helps keep a certain balance between what the movie is attempting to accomplish and the clichés that completely undermine those intentions.
Yes, we've seen this all before, and if you're still not convinced of it, here's a bit more. One of the swimmers' sister (Kimberly Elise) is a city councilwoman determined that her brother continue his schoolwork (even though we never see these kids in school), and watch as his participation on the swim team helps him grow academically. Another must try to avoid being led back into a criminal life, symbolized by the neighborhood's crime honcho Franklin (Gary Anthony Sturgis). Seeing as everything, from school to a hostile neighborhood, is entirely implied, the script forces an actual physical conflict between Ellis and Franklin (life of purpose vs. life on the street), just so we know the struggle is important without the bother of actually showing it. Similarly, the swimmers learn valuable life lessons by the end of the movie—again without the bother of showing those lessons being learned. It all leads up to an anticlimactic climactic swim meet, where everything is on the line and the team's captain gets to take on the inspirational speech necessity. First off, there's little attachment to the characters to make the State championship involving, and first-time director Sunu Gonera weakens whatever might be there by repeatedly cutting away from the competition.
Race plays a big issue here, but even that's resolved by meaningful nods from the movie's biggest perpetrators of ignorance. Yes, Pride is entirely formulaic, but that only magnifies the bigger problem. The movie doesn't try to expand upon the important elements within that formula, hoping that formula alone will carry it through to the end, hoping that meaning will be found solely by hitting each note, and, as usual, coming up short.
Copyright © 2007 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.