I'm not an athlete.
In fact, with the exception of my beloved Indiana Pacers, I don't much care for sports.
There's something about an inspirational sports story, though, that just plain gets to me.
"Hoosiers?" I love the film, and it's not because I'm an extra in the film.
"Rudy?" Same thing.
Heck, even the barely seen speedboat racing film "Madison" still puts a lump in my throat.
Despite my complete lack of athletic ability, I simply can't resist a well-told, inspirational sports story no matter how formulaic and predictable it may be.
"The Express," while not quite up to the standards of "Hoosiers," is an entertaining and inspiring film starring Rob Brown as Ernie Davis. Davis was the first African-American winner of the Heisman Trophy while a student at Syracuse University. Davis's promising NFL career was cut short, however, when he was diagnosed with leukema and passed away at the age of 23...before ever playing a down in the NFL.
"The Express" is likely to evoke memories of "Brian's Song," a film not just about the terminal illness of Chicago Bears player Brian Piccolo, a whit man, but just as equally about Piccolo's life-changing friendship with legendary Bears running back Gale Sayers. It's a film that can reduce the most testosterone-driven jock to tears like no other.
In "The Express," it's the friendship that develops between Davis and his coach, Ben Schwartzwalder (Dennis Quaid) that gives the film a richness so often missing from similar films, including the recent "Forever Strong."
The subject of a tad bit of controversy owing to its flexibility with the facts and its overt painting of West Virginian racism that, at least for many coming forth since the the film's release, isn't quite accurate, "The Express" succeeds because it largely avoids histrionics even while dealing with the harsh realities of racism both on the field and off.
Brown ("Finding Forrester") plays Davis with intelligence and grace, indicative of a young man who chose his path consciously and was surrounded by a solid, supportive network of friends and family. Quaid, as well, gives Schwartzwalder a nice blend of humanity without completely abandoning the fact that what seemed like tolerance in the late 50's and early 60's would likely appear like overt racism today (NOTE: Some parties involved in this real life storyline have stated that the portrayal of Schwartzwalder and Davis is too adversarial and that the two actually worked quite well together. I suppose a certain amount of dramatic tension makes for good cinema).
The always dependable Charles S. Dutton ("Rudy") turns in another fine performance as the grandfather who raised Davis, and Omar Benson Miller ("Miracle at St. Anna") is solid as a fellow African-American player who has already endured much of what Davis will experience along the way.
While there's nothing groundbreaking about "The Express," solid performances and a well-written, heartfelt story is really all that's needed for a film such as this one works. It seems like only about one out of five of these inspiring sports stories ends up working...consider "The Express" the one.
The Independent Critic