Directed by Boaz Yakin, starring Denzel Washington, Will Patton, Wood Harris and Ryan Hurst
Any high school sports film must function on three levels: there must be someone fat who, while the object of fun, helps brings the team together, there must be two mavericks in the team who learn to work side by side and, most importantly, no game can ever be won until two seconds before the whistle. Keep those clichés in mind for 'Remember The Titans' and then introduce producer Jerry Bruckheimer ('Flashdance', 'Bad Boys' and 'Coyote Ugly') into the game plan - yes the pre-match forecast is that bad.
It's 1971 and TC Williams High in Alexandria, Virginia is in a state of crisis. With racial integration high on the political agenda, the all-white school must accept black students in its classrooms and on its football fields. Worse still, the much loved Bill Yoast (Patton) has been passed over for the position of head coach of The Titans, in favour of Herman Boone (Washington), a short fuse disciplinarian drafted in from South Carolina to keep them uppity civil rights folks happy. Overnight a winning team becomes a shambles: the white players, furious at the treatment of Yoast, refuse to play, leaving Boone with a bunch of unruly black kids to build a team around. The scene is set for Yoast to walk out, thus putting Boone on the fast track to the sack, but when Boone offers Yoast the role of assistant coach, he puts the school's honour in front of personal pride.
Director Boaz Yakin was responsible for the story of a precocious child hustler in the excellent 'Fresh' and the offbeat Renee Zellweger comedy 'A Price Above Rubies', but here he's on Hollywood feelgreat turf, and against all odds, it does. Yes, you've seen every set piece in some teen drama or made for TV movie, but a decent cast (including stirring performances from virtual unknowns) and some well-timed and well-placed humour go a long way to bandaging the shortcomings. The temptation with any sports film is to ditch character development somewhere after minute 20 and rush lens first into the action, but Yakin takes to build up the various personalities with the result that the team is a believable mix of bravado, fear and wiseass cool.
At the heart of the film is the coming of age of teammates Gerry Bertier (Hurst) and Julius Campbell (Harris) - born leaders and born stubborn and the white-black divide of Alexandria summed up in two people. The two share some marvelous scenes as they warm to and learn from each other before having to confront the cruel twists of fate head on. But while the Bertier-Campbell relationship is beautifully done, Yakin lets himself, Washington and Patton down with his handling of the Boone-Yoast dynamic. Granted, their taciturn tactics on the pitch are credible but their contact off the field is never fully explored. And while both men turn in fine performances, Yakin could have easily added another 20 minutes to the film and given them more scenes together.
'Remember The Titans' won't win any Oscars and it won't explain the rules of American football but the glow will last the whole way home.