A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this film -- which was originally rated PG-13 and was re-edited to earn its PG -- revolves around the issue of race in America in the '50s and '60s and is fraught with racial epithets and racist attitudes. There's also a certain amount of violence -- including hard-hitting football action and also dirty tricks like a coach directing his players to hit an opponent at the site of an injury. There's also some salty tough-talk from a football coach and depictions of the segregation and racial divides in the American South in the '50s and '60s.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
THE EXPRESS tells the story of Ernie Davis (Rob Brown), the first African-American to win the coveted Heismann Trophy for general excellence in college football. It follows Davis' life from his early youth in Elmira, New York, in the 1940s and '50s; raised by his grandparents, Davis' promise in high school turned into a scholarship offer from Syracuse under the direction of coach Ben Schwartzwalder (Dennis Quaid). The film focuses on Davis' 1960 season, during which he not only led Syracuse to a national championship but also faced racism and hatred when Syracuse played in Southern states like West Virginia and Texas.
Is it any good?
Inspirational true-life sports films seem to be a dime a dozen, but when they're good, they're worth their weight in gold. Directed by Gary Fleder, The Express is a little overlong and a little over-directed, but the fierce momentum of Davis' story keeps the film going through the slower moments, and the sincerity and sober thought that Fleder and screenwriter Charles Leavitt bring to the film shine through some of the overly flashy camera work and directorial choices.
The cast is also excellent, especially Brown; he manages to make Davis seem dignified but not dull, principled but never preachy -- and he completely sells the excellence of Davis' real-life athletics in the film's recreation of bygone games. Quaid is also outstanding as Schwartzwalder, a man both cold and compassionate, focused on football and yet aware of the world outside it. The film moves downfield as if on rails -- from early childhood to early success, from initial excitement to unexpected setbacks, all leading up to the big game and the tragic real-life events that followed. At the same time, the talent of everyone involved makes it easy to watch the cast and crew go through the moments you expect from the film. The Express isn't as subtle or specific as it could be, but at the same time it's hard to imagine not being moved by Davis' real struggles and story.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the film's historical depictions of race and civil rights. How has America moved forward in the years since the era depicted in the film, when segregation and overt racism were rampant? How has it not? Families can also discuss the appeal of inspirational sports films. Are they a great way to explore history and human behavior, or an "easy out" for filmmakers thanks to their cliches and familiar moments?
- In theaters: October 8, 2008
- On DVD or streaming: January 20, 2009
- Cast: Darrin Dewitt Henson, Dennis Quaid, Rob Brown
- Director: Gary Fleder
- Studio: Universal Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Sports and Martial Arts, History
- Run time: 121 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: thematic content, violence and language involving racism, and for brief sensuality.
- Last updated: May 9, 2020
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