The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, April 22, 2001
Wide Angle

From Black & White to shades of grey
By Ervell E. Menezes

WHATEVER you may say about Hollywood and its mindless entertainers, the fact is that they also come out with some really meaningful and inspiring films. Like Remember the Titans for example. At first it looks like a film on American football which we are little acquainted with. But, as New York Post critic Lou Lumenick puts it, "this is a civics lesson about integration very artfully ó and entertainingly ó disguised as an upbeat family sports movie."

And scriptwriter Gregory Allen Howard picked the subject at his barberís shop where they talked about the two football coaches who saved the city from a racial conflagration. He researched the subject, met the two coaches and finally came up with this brilliant script. The city in question was Alexandria in Virginia, the coaches Herman Bone (Denzel Washington) and Bill Yoast (Will Patton).

In Virginia high school football is king. So, when in 1971 two schools (one white and the other black) had to integrate it was a potentially volatile situation. It posed a problem not only for the two teams but also for the entire city of Alexandria. When Boone, a black, was brought from South Carolina and hired as coach for T.C. Williams High Titans over the popular senior coach Yoast, it almost sparked a riot.

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"It isnít about me, Iím worried about the boys," says Yoast who decides to bury his ego and work under Boone. How this racially sensitive problem is dealt with in a predominantly white society is what Remember the Titans is all about. It may have invoked a bit of licence but it is really an inspiring and elevating film which shows that colour is only skin deep. It is the man within that counts.

"Thereís a fine line between tough and crazy and youíre flirting with it," Yoast tells Boone in one of the more dramatic moments. And there is no doubt that a hard-as-nails, company sergeant like Boone seems to be doing just that. He wakes up his team at three in the morning and takes them to Gettysberg to hear the newer version of that famous speech. Then his method of integrating the blacks and whites to shades of grey is as effective as it is innovative.

Remember the Titans is good, thought-provoking entertainment as it provides an insight into the two different cultures. Gerry Bertier (Ryan Hurst) is the white captain while Big Ju(Wood Harris) is a black with a lily-white soul and thereís a bit of soul-searching to be done. Then sorrow in the last quarter gives the film a further thrust. May be it does have its manipulative moments but they can be overlooked in the light of the overall effect and purpose of depicting a real-life happening so effectively.

Producer Jerry Bruckheimer who is known for his action-packed blockbusters like The Rock has picked up a comparatively low-key entertainer. Low-key but much more meaningful and newcomer director Boaz Yakin does an excellent job in recreating a true-life happening. As for Denzel Washington, he goes hammer and tongs with the Boone personality, aptly fleshing it out but these roles tend to typecast him. He reminds me of the goody-goody Black of the 1960s, Sidney Poitier, but he surely has more angst and shades of grey which of course is also in keeping with the times. Will Patton is rightly restrained and would be likened to Sidney Poitierís role (opposite the effusive and Oscar-winning Rod Steiger) in In the Heat of the Night. How the clock goes forward.

But Remember the Titans is real stuff, unlike Red Planet which is about life on Mars, an interesting subject but treated quite unimaginatively and at most times is as dry as that planet.

The film takes off well with its futuristic premise of the earth dying because its resources are being depleted. Even oxygen is in short supply. So a team of astronauts with assorted skills are being deployed to make this historic trip to Mars. Led by a woman Bowman (Carrie-Anne Moss), it includes five men with Van Kilmer playing one of them and veteran Terrence Stamp.

Predictably, the men make a play for the women and are snubbed. But other differences arise. The Mars landing is well done, but thatís about all. The astronauts start disappearing like the ten little nigger boys and the interest in the proceedings wane in equal proportion with their exits. For all the special effects director Jonathan Lemkin makes a hash of the subject. Iíd rather opt for a slab of the chocolate of the same name. It is sure to be more satiating.

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