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Hoop Dreams

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Hoop Dreams

Starring: Arthur Agee, William Gates
Director: Steve James
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 171 Minutes
Release Date: October 1994
Genres: Documentary, Drama, Sports, Independent

Review by Steve Rhodes
4 stars out of 4

First, let me confess that I have been bored by sports for the past twenty years--name any sports star, and I've never heard of him or her. Second, I love documentaries above all movies. Third, like the people in this movie, I was once on a sports team in a quest for the big state championship--in my case I was on a team (Garland) that won the Texas state high school football championship 2 years in a row (1963 and 1964), and we even played one of our playoffs in the Cotton Bowl. Finally, I came from a poor but stable family. All of this affects my extreme and strongly positive reactions to this incredible movie.

To set the stage for HOOP DREAMS, let me pose a few questions to you. Are you aware that public and private high schools today have scouts that recruit potential star athletes while they are in GRADE SCHOOL? Are you aware that grade schoolers are offered scholarships to private high school with all of the tuition paid plus jobs in the summer if they are and stay athletic stars? Do you know what happens if their grades fall down or if they turn out to be mere mortals and not athletic gods?

To state the same facts in a different light, are you aware that there are schools so nice that they will give ghetto kids the ability to leave an awful environment where they could be killed and where there are almost no job opportunities? Are you aware of the incredible expense the schools will go through to keep their stars in top physical shape and how generous they are with money to treat injuries?

HOOP DREAMS is a documentary of over five years of the lives of two boys, their families, coaches, friends, and recruiters. At the first of the movie we see the boys being recruited by St. Joseph's which is 1-1/2 hours one way from their home. They both start there on scholarships and commute every day by train. From there the movie takes many turns. They are all fascinating, but you will have to see the movie, I will not spoil it.

In the movie you get to know very well, not only the two kids (William Gates and Arthur Agee), but both sets of parents, and the St. Joseph's coach. You begin to feel how hard it is to make it in the ghetto. I was poor when growing up, but nothing compared to this level of poverty plus these kids came from unstable homes whereas I had the blessing of a stable one. Nevertheless, I found myself really empathizing with these boys. I wanted them to make it SO much. Their triumphs thrilled me, and when they would not apply themselves, I wanted to shake them and say wake up you have some great opportunities here--don't blow it.

Both Daddies were NBA wannabees. They each thought they could have made it if they had just done this or that. The moms were also quite interesting, and you really felt their daily struggles to make ends meet. The St. Joseph's coach was easy to dislike, yet there was something ultimately redeeming about him as well.

As a documentary maker, Steve James, is one of the best based on this movie. Imagine investing over five years of your life just in the filming. The camerawork, especially toward the end, is more evocative of a bigger budget movie than the usual home movie flavor you normally get in a documentary. The marvelous editing by Bill Haugse, Steve James, and Frederick Marx has a lot of energy and although you are sitting in your seat for a long time, you never get tired because the subject matter is so interesting, and it is so well done.

Sports movie are especially tricky. You can show a lot of sports action and do little story development, or you can mainly talk about sports with some shots to illustrate your points. This movie hits just the right compromise--again, great editing. You see a lot of basketball, but mainly it dwells on the kids and their families. If there is a villain in the show, it is probably the recruiters. After seeing this, you may rank recruiters as a class below politicians you don't like, aluminum siding salesmen, and contingency fee lawyers.

The movie runs 2:49, and I would not want a second of it edited out. It is rated barely PG-13 for a smaller than expected amount of profanity. I recommend it to everyone. Any kid older than 12 could and should see it. Any kids thinking about sports as a career or as a way to get a scholarship, should consider this movie required viewing. Got a budding athlete? Take him or her to see this film tonight! HOOP DREAMS is film making at its absolute best, and I award ****.

Copyright 1994 Steve Rhodes

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