Hoosiers hits the boards with heart.
Fairy tales are for kids. Where the Wild Things Are, Mother Goose, and all the Disney cartoons are for little children. When those children start to grow up, the girls get a whole new set of fairy tales just for them. Pretty Woman, Thelma and Louise, and Sleepless In Seattle are all fairy tales, and there are a hundred more like them. For guys, it's a little different, we like our films tougher, more realistic, grittier. Our Pretty Woman is probably Top Gun, our Sleepless is probably late night Cinemax. But there are a few exceptions, three to be exact, that fall into that fairy tale category, and are most definitely for the boys. Field of Dreams was a story that showed how the one little farmer could follow his heart ("If you build it he will come") and be reborn. Rudy took one little guy ("You're five foot nuthin', a hundred and nuthin'") and showed boys everywhere never to give up and never stop working. But the film that probably hits closest to this critics admittedly jaded and cold heart has got to be Hoosiers. Like Rudy, Hoosiers is based on a true story, and both films also share the same director, David Anspaugh, but what sets Hoosiers
above Rudy is the quality of actors, the quality of play within the film, and most of all the incredible story of what, sadly, is a tradition no more in Indiana high school sports. For those who haven't seen Hoosiers yet, let me set the stage. Gene Hackman is Coach Norman Dale, a former Division I college coach who, in 1954 for somewhat mysterious reasons has come to the tiny town of Hickory, Indiana to coach the Hickory Huskers basketball team. The key to the story is than in Indiana up until a few years ago the state tournament was a true state tournament. No divisions, everybody plays everybody. The city school with 3000 students could play a rural school with 70 students, and the little school could win, and win again, and could be the true state champ. Coach Dale is not welcome in the small town. He's grilled about his style of coaching, his man to man philosophies, his reasons for being there, and the fact that Jimmy Chitwood, the best player at the school, has chosen not to play, and Coach Dale won't even try to change Jimmy's mind. Coach Dale preaches teamwork. He preaches tough defense, he preaches passing the ball, and most of all he preaches hard work. Things will be his way, and his biggest job is making the players, not to mention the parents and townspeople, believe in him and in themselves. A large part of what makes Hoosiers such a great film is the cast. Hackman gives one of his greatest performances, Barbara Hershey is brilliant, and Dennis Hopper, as Shooter Flatch, once the best player in the school but now the town drunk, received an Oscar nomination (even though Hopper gave a better performance that year in Blue Velvet) for Best Supporting Actor. We've seen this story of the little guys beating the big guys before, but the actors give such strong performances, are so dedicated to the team, that as viewers we get sucked in right along with them. It's a film that, like the team it follows, isn't as good top to bottom as some others, but makes up for its shortcomings with an extra helping of heart. Most of the great fairy tales begin "Once upon a time." The phrase brings with it a feeling that you're being taken back to a purer time, a time when kids worried that their shoes were tied, rather than what kind of shoes they were, when men opened doors and kisses were on the cheek. Hoosiers is that kind of a film. Even when the script gets a little predictable, a little cheesy, it is so pure in its heart, we forgive the flaws and follow these small town boys onto the court for the biggest game of their lives, and we cheer for them, because we're cheering for ourselves a little bit too.
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