Glory Road (2006)

Cynthia Fuchs

Includes all the usual tricks of the genre, from vintage soundtrack and heart-pounding court action to excellent performances and heartfelt lessons underlined by teary eyes in close-up.

Glory Road

Director: James Gartner
Cast: Joshua Lucas, Tatyana Ali, Mehcad Brooks, Emily Deschanel, Derek Luke
MPAA rating: PG
Studio: Disney
First date: 2006
US Release Date: 2006-01-13
Welcome to the back of the bus, white boy.
-- Bobby Joe Hill (Derek Luke), Glory Road

You know the drill. Enthusiastic, hard-driving coach arrives at a backwater school and inspires his underdog team to athletic and moral victories, and oh yes, coach's wife provides heartfelt reaction shots from stands. This version is yet again based on a true story, wherein brilliant young basketball players must contend not only with better-funded school programs and lack of respect, but also U.S. racism in 1966.

James Gartner's Glory Road is wholly, probably even proudly formulaic. It includes all the expected tricks of the genre, from vintage soundtrack and heart-pounding court action to excellent performances and heartfelt lessons underlined by teary eyes in close-up. Coach Don Haskins (Josh Lucas) spends a couple of minutes with his Fort Worth high school girls' team, to show why he's so desperate to work with an NCAA team. Invited to coach at Texas Western in El Paso, he packs up wife Mary (Emily Deschanel), who tends to appear with baby on hip, to live in the boys' dorm, where they wear towels in the hallways and... well, that seems to be the extent of that possible upset.

The film spends little time considering anything other than the team dynamics. This leaves the 1960s context (the Vietnam war, the Black Panthers) to tv images and brief comments. That's not to say that these framing devices are ineffective, but they are occasionally set alongside trivial jokey bits, as when forward Harry Flournoy's (Mehcad Brooks) mother is called to sit in on his classes to ensure he does his homework. ("All my classes are about rocks," he complains to coach before mama shows up. "I'm a black man, I don't do rocks.")

Don appears to "get" racism and specifically, racist violence against his players (white fans throw trash at them as they enter arenas, graffiti is left on their motel room walls). But he stays focused on the game, seeing winning as the best way to "instruct" opponents. That is, until he learns he's been getting hate mail at home and Mary's been hiding it from him. Now, he's upset. Still, it's up to the players to deal with the fact that one of their number has been beaten bloody in a diner bathroom as they bus through the South, with coach mostly unseen during their deliberations. His most radical act -- and it is a profound one in its way -- is to start five black players at the finals, the first time in NCAA history.

By then, the players have come together, after their own ups and downs over the course of the season (some more obviously "dramatized" than others). He's found his stars from around the nation, with the university apparently footing the bill for him to scout nontraditional sites, including a Gary, Indiana steel mill and street courts in the South Bronx. (The fact that Don sends a bespectacled, nerdish assistant to recruit some of these "urban" players allows for broad visual comedy when players take the recruiter's clothes when he calls them "colored boys.")

Don has his own recruiting tactics for the Miners, as when he tells potential guard Bobby Joe Hill (Derek Luke), "I can make your dreams come true faster than a twister'll take your socks off." Bobby Joe's jaw drops as he notes, "You talk funny." But the corn-speak is part of Don's cagey shtick; he knows his game. He convinces another player to sign on by challenging him to a little one-on-one: "I'll eat your lunch, steal your girl, and kick your dog at the same time." And he does, more or less, at which point the kid signs up. When one mother worries that he wants to take her son to El Paso ("To get lynched?" she asks), Don charms her in a couple of lines of dialogue. He even convinces star center David Lattin (Schin A.S. Kerr) to sign on, a surprising turn marked by his arrival in a very fancy car, with all kinds of attitude.

The team in place (though the black players feel like they've landed "in Bonanza," and the white players marvel at the first black people they've ever seen), Don sets about the usual drilling and lecturing. He has a specific dribbling and passing program in mind, which the sharpshooters he's brought in resent (when he relents and lets them play "their" game, they win). Don encourages short Willy Worsley (Sam Jones III) to use his speed, Nevil Shed (Al Shearer) to lose his fear of being hurt, and doesn't want to play Willie Cager (Damaine Radcliffe) when he learns the kid's been hiding a heart ailment. He also ensures that the white players, including Jerry Armstrong (Austin Nichols), get on board, so that by film's end, they give up their starting positions in order to join their new friends' struggle.

All this mutual team devotion is in place by the time they arrive at the '66 NCAA finals, where they face the much better funded, all Caucasian University of Kentucky champions. They're coached by the unfortunately named Adolph Rupp (Jon Voight under yet another inventive makeup job), whose exasperation shots tend to feature confederate flags in the background. Yes, he's the bad guy, sneering at the black players at a moment in history when no white authorities in the sport imagine that "Negroes [are] gonna be the future of basketball."

Such observations allow the film's viewers to snicker at the folly of these ancient opinions. But Glory Road also includes enough images of hard violence to underline at least some of the costs for the Miners, not to mention their less well looked after peers. Rousing, manipulative, and predictable, the movie knows its business.





The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".


GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".


Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".


Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.


Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.


The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".


Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.


Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.