Sports movies broadly fit into one of three categories. The worst are made by non-fans for non-fans. Better, but of limited interest, are those made by fans for fans. But the best, like Hoosiers, are made by fans for both fans and non-fans.
Hoosiers is more than a sports film — it’s a rousing story of redemption that cares deeply enough and is knowledgeable enough about the game to thrill the most demanding devotee, yet also cares deeply enough about its characters and larger themes that they matter in themselves, and aren’t just there for the sake of the game.
Based on the true story of the 1954 Milan Indians, an underdog rural Indiana high-school basketball team, the film is set in fictional Hickory, Indiana, a small, poor Hoosier State town where high-school basketball is everything, though there are scarcely enough players to man the court, let alone win games. Gene Hackman plays Norman Dale, the tight-lipped, stern new coach who is clearly overqualified for this job and must have his reasons for taking it, and Dennis Hopper has a rare touching role as town drunk Shooter, a former player and the father of one of the current players.
The story of second chances, tough choices, weathering opposition, and overcoming adversity is a familiar one, but Hoosiers has that characteristic that sports films so often celebrate in their athletes but don’t always possess themselves as films: heart. Director David Anspaugh and writer Angelo Pizzo later collaborated on Rudy, another familiar but enjoyable against-all-odds sports film based on a true story. Hoosiers, though, is the better film; the filmmakers are at the top of their game.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.