"In Virginia, high school football is a way of life," Coach Yoast's daughter
Cheryl (Hayden Panettiere) explains to us in the introduction. "It's bigger
than Christmas Day." REMEMBER THE TITANS tells a heart-warming, true story
about a championship high school football team in 1971. Set against a
background of racial strife when the Virginia high schools were starting to
integrate, the movie rises several notches above what we've come to expect
in sports movies.
Boaz Yakin (A PRICE ABOVE RUBIES), working from a funny and moving script
by first-time writer Gregory Allen Howard, directs the movie with the same
precision and passion demanded of the football players in it. The biggest
reason for its success, however, is another marvelous performance by Denzel
Washington (HURRICANE) as Coach Boone, the new head coach of the just
integrated T.C. Williams High Titans. Always intense, Coach Boone is at
once humorous and insufferable. Most of all, Coach Boone is a winner who is
willing to drive his team way past normal limits of pain and endurance.
As the ex-head coach, the dedicated but more compassionate Coach Yoast (Will
Patton) agrees to stay on as Coach Boone's defensive coach as a way to keep
harmony among the team and keep his white players from quitting in protest
over his resignation.
Having played high school football in Texas under a similarly fanatical
coach to Coach Boone, albeit a white one, I can identify with inhuman
practices in order to win state championships. After you win them, it's
easy to forget the insanity required in practice to become the best. In the
movie, the coach puts the team through everything from 3 a.m. runs in the
woods to forcing dehydrated players to continue to practice without benefit
of water. The movie, to its credit, doesn't try to smooth off the rough
edges of Boone's prickly personality or make his hard-work fanaticism seem
easy to follow.
Much is made in the script of the difficulty of integrating the team so that
they play as one. The animosity between the races starts out so high that
it looks like they will never gel as a team. One key white player even
brags that he will "miss" some blocks when the blacks are running. Rather
than beating us to death over the head with the race issue in Oliver Stone
fashion, the movie uses a blend of extremely funny comedy and sharply
The blacks in town look to Coach Boone as a savior, something he tries to
downplay. "I'm not Jesus Christ, Martin Luther King or the Easter Bunny,"
he tells an adoring crowd of blacks. "I'm just a football coach." Modesty,
however, isn't an attribute that the coach demonstrates often, pushing
himself as hard as he does his players. He is tough on all races, arguing
that to act otherwise is to do them a disservice. Again and again, you have
to be in awe of Washington's incredible talent as an actor. I have no idea
how great the real-life Coach Boone was, but surely his gift was nothing in
comparison to Washington's, who brings so much charisma and drive to his
Parts of the film, as when the team sings "Ain't No Mountain High Enough,"
are reminiscent of many other sports movies, especially THE REPLACEMENTS.
Some, however, are surprises, especially the little gay humor thrown in with
just the right amount of ambiguity.
Of several subplots, the best involves the two 9-year-old daughters of the
two coaches. Coach Yoast's daughter, Cheryl, lives and breathes football.
She is the team's number one fan and likes to offer strategy suggestions.
In contrast, Coach Boone's daughter, Nicky (Krysten Leigh Jones), likes
dolls. Cheryl says that Nicky "plays" with them, but Nicky corrects her,
saying that she "accessorizes" them. Although the movie's epilogue talks
about what great friends the two real-life coaches became, it's hard to see
their girls ever really overcoming the differences in their interests.
The football action is filmed up close so that it's hard to follow the game
at other than a gut level. The editing is fast paced, and the football hits
are punishingly hard so that the movie does pump up your adrenaline. Even
if the filming of the action isn't quite what it could be, it is more than
adequate to tell the story.
By the end, we've had an entertaining, good time and have been moved by a
fascinating story. With a musical score of surprisingly sweeping grandeur,
REMEMBER THE TITANS is a wonderful film that is much better than we have any
right to expect. Whatever you do, don't leave before the epilogue that
tells what happened in real life to the coaches and many of the key players.
REMEMBER THE TITANS runs 1:53. It is rated PG for thematic elements and
some language and would be a great film for the entire family.
My son Jeffrey, age 11, and his twin friends, Steven and John, both 12,
loved the movie, giving it ****, **** and *** 1/2 respectively. They all
mentioned how much they liked the story, especially the parts at the
football preseason boot camp. They found the film quite funny.
Copyright © 2000 Steve Rhodes