The Express Gary Fleder
Published Oct 09, 2008As far as hagiographic and tragic sports bio-pics go, The Express is above average and muscular in structure but so woefully clichéd, overlong and gosh-darn wholesome that its hard not to inappropriately think, "would he just die already so I can go home? by the end.
National sorrow and promise hang heavy on the shoulders of the underdog prodigy and his well-intentioned but internally conflicted and subconsciously biased coach, whose struggle of course can be metaphorically transposed to our times, where the issues are different but the impact is the same. None of this is particularly subtle, nor is the use of black and white footage within a film about racial intolerance, but it is at least thoughtful and more importantly, relevant.
Based on the true story of Ernie Davis (Rob Brown), The Express examines his life from his childhood in a poverty-ridden Pennsylvania coal-mining community where he was raised by his grandfather (Charles S. Dutton), through to his battles with discrimination both on and off the field while playing football at Syracuse U.
What distinguishes this story from the many others of this ilk is the fact that Davis was the first African-American to win the coveted Heisman Trophy and sadly succumbed just two years later to Leukaemia, never receiving the chance to play in the big leagues.
Unfortunately, Fleders disingenuous direction and Charles Leavitts fairytale script burden casual asides with the weight of historical significance while imbuing central characters with a wisdom and sugar-coated sincerity that eschew sincere and logical conflict in favour of Hallmark moments. Even the overly stylized football sequences pin Davis at the centre of each play, moving gracefully and acrobatically to the end zone while everyone else flops around incompetently.
With a little less schmaltz, The Express could have lived up to its lofty goals, but hollow predictability inevitably overwhelms a passable and solicitous biopic. (Universal)