Remember the Titans
review by Gregory Avery, 29 September 2000

Oh, for the joys of formula, where nothing is so complicated that it can't be resolved by the end of the story in as neatly, simply, and in as non-disconcertingly a way as possible! Remember the Titans takes the story of a real-life South Carolina football coach (played in the film by Denzel Washington), who is assigned to coach the team for an all-white Virginia high school that is being integrated for the first time, and puts it right through the wringer. Authoritarian and uncompromising, the new coach runs the team ragged and forces them to get to know each another, all while proving his worth and working things out with the school's former coach (Will Patton), who has been demeaned though being knocked down to the position of assistant coach. The results are that the team members, barely speaking to one another when they go off to summer training camp, come back on the bus singing r-&-b songs together and unable to comprehend what the problem is with their family, friends and community. If only things were that simple! (They weren't: I lived in Virginia during the 'sixties.)

While the action is set in 1970-71, it looks as if it's taking place five years earlier. (There is absolutely no mention of Nixon or Vietnam -- very unusual, considering the draft was still in effect.) Washington does some stirring work, and Patton is equally good playing a quiet, basically decent churchgoing man who seems taken aback when he has to back up his words calling for fairness and tolerance with action. But the film flattens everything out as it gets progressively more and more caught up in the action on the playing field. And while director Boaz Yakim does his best to give the material ingenuousness and momentum, even he seems mortified at how the film suddenly rakes it focus away from its main subject and onto something else entirely in order to provide an ending that smothers everything with a thick, chloroform-like layer of sentimentality. (It feels as if a couple of scenes are missing that would have provided end notes for the main characters.)

There's one thing I've noticed over the years, and it's that there are two kinds of looks that Denzel Washington tends to get in his eyes while working in a movie. One is when he is thoroughly involved in a character, such as in Malcolm X and The Hurricane. The other is a more detached look which, as in The Pelican Brief, seems to be saying that he's resigned himself to the fact that the only thing he's going to get out of this movie is a paycheck. That's the look that's in his eye by the time this movie is over with.

Directed by:
Boaz Yakim

Denzel Washington
Will Patton
Wood Harris
Ryan Hurst
Donald Faison
Craig Kirkwood
Ethan Suplee
Hayden Panettiere

Written by:
David Elliott
Clay Ayers



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