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Remember the Titans
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Remember the Titans - Click to view! REMEMBER THE TITANS (2000)
Starring Denzel Washington and Will Patton.
Directed by Boaz Yakin.
MPAA rating: PG

Ever so often, moviegoers are treated to another story in the vein of Rudy, Hoosiers, or The Mighty Ducks, where the underdog team plays to victory against impossible odds. When it released October 2000, many passed over Remember the Titans as just another entry in the vast "inspirational sports" genre, especially since every published review described it as "feel-good... cartoonish... pandering..." But, no. A far cry from another Air Bud, this Jerry Bruckheimer production tells the true story of one city's grueling fight with change. And though the football games are brutally physical, high school sports is only a metaphor for the more difficult battles fought in 1971 America. Racism and social boundaries are tackled, but not in a good-feelings-cover-all way, as screenplay writer Gregory Allen Howard says, "They learn about the differences between each other, and learn to respect each other." A basic truth that gets complicated when one applies it.

Alexandria, Virginia is introduced as a town in turmoil. Amid violent street demonstrations, city "leaders" and the black community must compromise to comply with the Supreme Court's desegregation ruling. Underprivileged African-Americans stand behind Herman Boone (Denzel Washington) to coach the Titans football team comprised of players from both white and black high schools, now integrated into T.C. Williams High. This forces local legend Coach Bill Yoast (Will Patton) to reluctantly become defensive coordinator, though not without argument from both sides. These scenes are managed quickly and tastefully, as one encounters bigotry among even clean-cut guys like All-American team captain Gerry Bertier (Ryan Hurst), and feels the resentment of Herman Boone's wife and daughter. From the outset, it is a complex, believable story.

Mistrusted by all, Coach Boone takes charge during the team's summer training, aiming to expose black/white thinking for the farce that it is. Against the backdrop of historic Gettysburg, he requires the teenagers to meet "someone of a different race" daily. Yet their suspicion and fear pervade, limiting any progress on or off the field. Finally, the Titans go to six-a-day practices, where the sweaty, exhausted players struggle through drill after drill. Taken together to the limits of their physical endurance, the two factions slowly become one, though a new wrinkle in the plot arrives with Ronnie "Sunshine" Bass (Kip Pardue), a blond-haired Californian going out for quarterback. Among the dozen of hopefuls, he and seven others are developed as main characters, including the running back Petey Jones (Donald Faison), obese, good-natured "Lastik" (Ethan Suplee), Julius Campbell (Wood Harris), a strong-willed team player, and soul-singing "Blu" (Earl C. Poitier, cousin to screen legend Sidney Poitier).

Icy stares greet the buses that roll into Alexandria with Herman Boone's troops, changed men who, at the moment, are highfiveing and harmonizing with each other. Some players slip back into their old ways of prejudice, pressured in part by supposedly "moderate" white parents who stage riots the first day of school. On the field, Bill Yoast presents a submissive front to players, but challenges Boone's drill-sergeant style in their Monday-after conferences. Coach Boone himself is aghast when he faces an athletic ultimatum: lose one game, and Yoast takes over.

These crises only fire up the in-your-face, win-or-die head coach; because he fights first against injustice, his determination catches on. A team in every sense of the word, the Titans become an iron will tempered by self-doubt, a single-minded force with more diversity than any other contender in the state. Developing new strengths with each opponent, the T.C. Williams team become the talk of the state when their record reaches 11-0.

In a cinematic sense, Remember the Titans is a case study on drama done right. Stalwart Denzel Washington's heavy-handed motivation is palatable, even enjoyable, when complemented by the humor and amateurism of the young ensemble cast. Friendships and rivalries play out in very true-to-life fashion, with lighter moments interspersed throughout. What they achieve is not so much comic "relief" as comic application; because one cares about the characters (and due to well-written, funny-after-ten-times situations), laughter is natural. Oldies hits, packaged in the popular Remember the Titans soundtrack, help ground the film in its 1971 setting; these create a nice contrast with the uplifting yet urgent music of composer Trevor Rabin. Detailed production drives the football game play (obviously mere highlights from each game), lighted markedly and shot tight to maximize the grit of every Titans block, tackle, and touchdown.

Though the error of his past ways slowly dawns on him, Bill Yoast gets caught in a web of former friends--league officials jealous of Herman Boone's undefeated record, and with no scruples whatsoever about assigning a biased referee or two to the Titans next game. All this when the team faces a division leader coached by a deep South redneck who slurs Boone as a "monkey" in TV interviews; the Boone residence receives a brick through their window; and the very heartbeat of Titans spirit, captain Gerry Bertier, contends with a life-threatening plight. Like any real-world plot, great victories take great sacrifices.

"We played a role in calming the situation down," said the real Herman Boone. "To the extent that people, instead of fighting each other, began talking to each other." Is it the factual basis that makes it so inspiring? Or the actors (including Denzel) and crew willing to take pay cuts to be part of it? Possibly the uncountable stories of local high schools with record-breaking seasons after watching the movie? "It's about harnessing that aggression into a team effort to achieve perfection!" Were America to Remember the Titans, the culture's self-centeredness and lack of impulse, respect, and soul would be radically altered.
- Josh M. Shepherd

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