About fifteen years ago, Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer released one of their many inspirational sports films, focusing on a team overcoming great odds and diversity to eventually win the championship game. It sounds like most other sports movies, so why is it that even fifteen years later, everyone still loves this movie? In my opinion, it’s because this is more than just a football movie- it’s brotherhood and bringing people together in a time when people were splitting apart. The feeling of overcoming that keeps people coming back and keeps the movie on everyone’s list of movies you just don’t skip past when it plays on TV.
The movie, based on the real-life events of 1971, centers around T.C. Williams High School in Virginia, which has been recently integrated, causing Herman Boone (Denzel Washington) to replace Bill Yoast (Will Patton) as head football coach of a team full of boys who hate each other on principal. It follows the team through their training days and perfect season as they overcome the diversity of the time, first from within, and then becoming a symbol to the community of respect and trust to bring the town together.
Now, I have been watching this movie for years upon years. The only movie I think they showed us more in school was Mean Girls (2004), and I enjoyed this one a whole lot more. For a girl who doesn’t understand the rules of football this is pretty amazing. So what is it that makes this movie worth watching over and over again? What made it the movie that single-handedly stopped September 2000 from being one of the worst months for movies ever?
Director Boaz Yakin (who, ironically, had never seen an American football game in his life before directing this film) and Bruckheimer made sure that this movie would appeal to all audiences, not just football buffs, and the detailing that went into this was incredible. One way to make the film more accessible to those unaccustomed to football was through the music editing- whenever the Titans make a key play or the game turns (either in their favor or against) the music tone changes, becoming more upbeat rock or tense scoring. The overwhelming wave of music and the theme of the whole movie gets the entire audience on board with the team and connects to the audience at the heart.
This movie also marked another fantastic performance by Washington, who transitions from the sarcastic and funny coach to the strong, ambitious and willful man who turned an entire town on his head. His speeches throughout the movie are moving and powerful, so much so that it’s difficult to pick out just one inspiring one. If I absolutely had to pick my favorite moment of his, I’d go with the speech at the field of Gettysburg (not only because it brings to mind his masterful performance in Glory (1989)): “If we don’t come together on this hallowed ground, we too will be destroyed, just like they were. I don’t care if you like each other or not, but you will respect each other. And maybe…I don’t know, maybe we’ll learn to play this game like men.” He follows this gem up with sweet scenes with is onscreen daughters, with arguing with the stubborn nine-year-old Sheryl Yoast (one of Hayden Panettiere’s earliest roles), and you can’t NOT be inspired by this man.
Played opposite of Washington is Patton, who walks the line between a man who is disappointed and angry at his ‘demotion’, loss of his shot at a Hall of Fame title and frustration at working with a man so different from himself to a man who learns the same lesson as everyone else- to “trust the soul of a man rather than the look of him”. Together Patton and Washington are a powerhouse, leading the cast in inspiring its audience like the real Titans inspired the country.
The cast is made up of many familiar faces, though back then they were smaller names. Along with Panettiere, the Titans include Wood Harris as Julius Campbell, Ryan Hurst as injured quarterback Gerry Bertier, Donald Faison as Petey, Ryan Gosling as Alan Bosley and Kate Bosworth as Bertier’s girlfriend Emma.
As with many “based on true events” films, details are added and omitted to help the story along. Some are small details- while the real Coach Boone did have his house vandalized, it was not with a brick but with an old toilet, which would have made a serious moment slightly more comical- and some were larger details, including adding in the characters of Alan Bosley and his father, Ray the angry teammate, and Coach Tyrell who would rather quit his position than work under a black head coach. However, they kept many things the same, which lead to a more interesting movie. The scene where Boone forces the team to integrate their buses on the way to camp was a real-life event- Boone stated in an interview that he “forced them to be a part of each other’s lives”, which is definitely a main source of tension throughout the film and watching the boys come together is an amazing experience every time.
Going back and watching this movie again, even years later, evokes the same feelings in me as the first time. In the last game, I still find myself sitting on the edge of the couch in anticipation, tearing up at Gerry’s reaction in his hospital bed, wanting to cheer as the boys freak out at their win. I know they’re going to win when I start the movie- honestly anyone who turns the movie on knows they’re going to win, whether they’ve seen it before or not- but that doesn’t stop me from wanting them to win from the bottom of my heart.
Fifteen years and I still love these boys as if they just “hoo-ha we’re here”‘d their way into my heart for the first time.
“You make sure that they remember, forever, the night they played the Titans!” -Bill Yoast (Will Patton)