Review Date:
Director: Tim Blake Nelson
Writer: Brad Kaaya
Producers: Daniel Fried, Eric Gitter, Anthony Rhulen
Mekhi Phifer as Odin James, Josh Hartnett as Hugo Goulding, Julia Stiles as Desi Brable
Odin is a great high school basketball player. He’s dating a hot girl and the coach loves his ass. In fact, the coach even admits to having fatherly feelings towards him. Unfortunately, the coach’s real son, Hugo, isn’t too pleased to hear that. In fact, he doesn’t like hearing about any of Odin’s triumphs, as they generally supersede his own. So what does he set out to do? Well, let’s just say that he starts to mess with people’s heads and one thing leads to another thing which leads to…well, you’ll see.
A very powerful, thoroughly depressing, well-acted “non-teen” movie starring a bunch of teens. Credit director Tim Blake Nelson for creating a modern day version of this Shakespearian classic, set in a realistic high school environment, with the basketball championships as the backdrop and an impending sense of doom as it core. You also have to give it up to all of the actors in this film, who turn over some very convincing performances, taking you through all of their characters’ ups and downs. Hartnett especially should be applauded for taking on such a despicable character, a dude who you just want to grab by the throat and beat the shit out of (sign of a good actor, if you ask me). Phifer also comes to play in this movie, with a nice blend of charisma, fear, love and anger spread over his character. I was always on this guy’s side and definitely felt sorry for him as things moved along. Julia Stiles was also good, but her character wasn’t much different from others that she’s played recently. I was however very surprised with Martin Sheen’s showing, since I hadn’t taken him too seriously as an actor over the past few years. His character is definitely over-the-top in this film, but I appreciated his fervor, his rage, his ultimate and blind desire to win above all. A great example of a workaholic man who cannot see the trees from the forest.

I did have a few reservations about the movie though. First of all, what was with all of the gangsta hip-hop music used in pretty much every other scene transition? It was cute at first, but became a little too obvious and annoying after a few times. The film was also edited pretty choppily…like some scenes were cut out and no one “cleaned it up” afterwards. I also didn’t like the fact that Hartnett’s character, the man behind much of the nastiness that goes down in this film, was infallible. In other words, pretty much everything he says or asks of someone, happens automatically and without any goofups. I mean, I know the guy is smart and all, but I would have appreciated a little more “realism” under some of the circumstances. But overall, the movie will devastate you. It’s not a “fun date movie”. It’s not a movie about the high school basketball team and how its black star falls for the white girl from the other side of the tracks. It’s about jealousy, love, envy, fury, passion, revenge and pretty much any other negative thought that’s ever passed through your head. Is it worth seeing? Oh, most definitely! (pun intended) It’s a moving picture with great performances, no Shakespearian speak (thank you, God!) and an outstanding directorial job by Nelson. The final scene alone is enough to send a massive chill down your spine, and I was especially impressed with the director’s choice of music near the end. In fact, the whole sequence was quite reminiscent of the final showdown scene from TAXI DRIVER, and I guess that’s saying something right there.

(c) 2021 Berge Garabedian