The Express Gary Fleder

The Express Gary Fleder
Encompassing a war on Civil Rights, an underdog tale, the confines of expectation, the injustice of illness and a hagiographic biopic under the umbrella of a straightforward and politically relevant football movie, The Express is better than most sports movies, despite playing it safe at every turn and featuring some amusing directorial tics. For example, the war-like overtones of the football sequences frequently look like Gatorade commercials with awkward choreography, given players' tendencies to leap lifelessly across the path of our protagonist as he sprints to the end zone. More successful is the first hour of the film in establishing Ernie Davis's (Rob Brown) journey from a poor coal mining community to a running back at Syracuse University, which flows naturally from the perspective of tonality and pacing, despite being somewhat cloying. Davis's friendship with Jack Buckley (Omar Benson Miller) and antagonistic relationship with his racially conflicted coach, Ben Schwartzwalder (Dennis Quaid), provide the requisite sounding board and intolerance for Davis's life to represent, and further, the struggles against segregation and discrimination of the time. Had as much concern been placed in believable characterizations as allegorical relevance these exchanges could have carried the emotional weight that the third act seeks. The DVD includes a feature-length commentary with director Gary Fleder, where he discusses working with inexperienced actors, various production problems and his ever-changing aesthetic. Much of this is covered in the 13-minute "making of" featurette as well, along with some actor interviews and an inevitable parade of compliments to everyone involved. Also included are the brief featurettes "Making History: The Story of Ernie Davis," "Inside the Playbook: Shooting the Football Games" and a television spot on Davis and the film. The playbook short is quite amusing, as the football sequences are dissected with various on-screen Xs and Os, while "The Story of Ernie Davis" is essentially a series of interviews with friends and family who talk about what a stand up chap he was. (Universal)