"More Than a Game": Movie Review (2009)

11/23/2009 Posted by Admin

Movie Review

"More Than a Game"

Directed by Kristopher Belman, written by Belman and Brad Hogan, 102 minutes, rated PG.

By our guest blogger, Kicia Sears

“More Than A Game” is not just a sports documentary. It is not just about LeBron James. Though basketball fans will nearly achieve nirvana while watching early footage of James, all audiences can relate to the greater themes of friendship, dedication, and achievement that are the real message of the film.

The film opens in the locker room of the St.Vincent-St. Mary’s (STVM) basketball team of Akron, Ohio on the night of the 2003 Division II State Championship game vs. Kettering Alter. Right after tip-off, the story flashes back to the beginning of LeBron James’ basketball career in the gym of the local Salvation Army. There we meet Dru Joyce III (“Little Dru”), Willie McGee, Sian Cotton, and Dru’s father Dru Joyce II (“Coach Dru”). The boys are very close friends from fourth grade onward, more like family--they even decided to attend STVM high school based on Little Dru’s choice. Staying together made all the difference as their off-court relationships contribute greatly to the type of basketball they play--dynamic, charismatic, and fresh.

The film follows the “Fab 4”--which eventually became the “Fab 5” in high school with the addition of Romeo Travis--as they win three high school state championships. Through interviews with the boys and their families, footage of the Fab 5 together, and an understanding of their histories, we begin to understand how different and special each of the boys are, why their bond is so unusual, and how it contributed to what James calls in the film “the best basketball of [his] life.”

Director Kristopher Belman was a junior in college when he decided to make a short film about his hometown high school’s basketball team. Upon arrival at St.Vincent-St. Mary’s practice, he quickly realized that the Fab 5 was a different group of boys and that there was more to what made the team great than simply their record or LeBron James. What seems like a straightforward sports documentary ends up being a story about the importance of human relationships. When the team is practicing and working until they drop, the dedication they have is to each other, not just the desire to win games.

The movie is about Dru, Sian, Willie, Romeo, and Coach Dru as much as it is about LeBron. The boys understand that he’s head-and-shoulders above most of the players in high school but they don’t sell themselves short regarding their own contribution to the team. Little Dru makes an insightful comment at one point in regards to STVM basketball: “It’s a rock band--he’s just the lead singer.”

The basketball is really stunning. Even non-fans will gasp at footage of LeBron slam-dunking in junior high, Dru winning a championship almost entirely on his own with his clutch three point shot, and the almost creepy chemistry of the team that allows them to pass and cut as if they can see into the future. LeBron is definitely a focal point, and it is almost unfair how easily he can dominate the basketball court over the other kids. At moments, it feels as though you’re watching a 26-year-old NBA star school a bunch of teenagers and when you remember that he’s their age, it’s mind-boggling how good he is--the hype is justified.

Compositionally, the film is about average for a documentary. It is obvious that Belman is an amateur cameraman as some of the footage is shaky, blurry, or very low-res, which is frustrating to watch, but the interviews are much better. It is certainly apparent which parts of the movie were shot when Belman was filming on his own and which were shot with the help of a camera crew--there is a shot of a door opening into a pitch-black gymnasium after a crushing loss that is completely silent and absolutely gorgeous. The effects and animation are very well done, specifically a 3-D pan & zoom technique that gives the feel of being a fly on the wall in the room with all of the greats.

Really, “More Than A Game” feels like a sports drama--the big game ends with triumphant music, there are tearful declarations of love between the Fab 5 for making it so far in such a short amount of time, and at the close of the film, it seems like anything is possible for these boys from small-town Ohio. It is satisfying to the basketball fan because they get to take a look at the roots of “King James,” who reminds us of everything we had forgotten basketball could be since the retirement of Michael Jordan. It also appeals to the audience that isn’t so interested in basketball, because in the movie basketball is just a vehicle to tell a story about the importance of human connectivity and dedication. It is the happy ending we all wished "Hoop Dreams" had. It is a powerful, resonant documentary featuring some jaw-dropping, edge-of-your-seat, fist-pumping, damn good basketball.

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