He Got Game review by The Grim Ringler
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He Got Game
Its a shame that Spike Lee hasnt gotten as much exposure and mainstream success because he is surely a director that deserves it. With a pure love of the craft of filmmaking, a passion for storytelling, and a keen eye for humanistic stories, it seems shameful that hes never gotten the sort of wide appeal that someone with his talent should. I admit that I dont worship at the altar of Spike, as some of his movies just dont interest me, though I can say the same for the likes of Spielberg and many others. It seems a shame that he gets all the critical acclaim without any box office success. As for He Got Game, having finally seen it, this is easily a movie that should be seen by every graduating senior who thinks they are the Next Big Thing in ANY sport.
Jesus has come. At least a basketball player named Jesus Shuttlesworth (Ray Allen) who has become a national sensation and, on the verge of announcing what college hell attend, hes the most popular man in Brooklyn. But not everyone has his best interests in mind. His father, Jake, is serving time for the accidental murder of Jesus mother and to Jesus, is dead. He rises from that prison grave though when the warden, by order of the governor, tells Jake that if he can get his son to sign a letter of intent with Big State, the governors alma mater, then Jake will get his time shortened considerably. So Jake returns, the literal ghost of the past, in the hopes that he can persuade his son to sign the letter. All the while Jesus has a hundred lips to his ear telling him where to go. His girlfriend, his guardians, his friends, everyone seems to have their hand out wanting to get paid. In the end though it comes down to a father and his estranged son, and a basketball game that means far more than just where the son will go to school, but what it is hes going to learn there.
A little packed, and over-dramatic at times, this is a hell of a film. Lee makes a film about basketball that, at its heart, never strays from the simple story of a father trying to reconnect with his son. The look at the pursuit of this young man is disturbing because its true. All you need to do is to have read the stories before NBA player LeBron James came out of high school or to know what happened with the Michigan basketball program. These are people whose talents became a commodity to be traded, bought, and sold. You can argue that this is a religious film as this is a film about one mans path through temptations to enlightenmentor damnation.
The filming is beautiful, the camera work amazing (though, damn, he was ALL about using cranes in this movie), and the score is absolutely gorgeous. Instead of relying on a rap soundtrack he uses rap (three cheers for Public Enemy) to punctuate scenes and moments, or as background music, relying on a classical score to really bring the beauty out of the game of basketball. There is a great balance too, between the basketball and the core story of the father and son. Spike LOVES basketball, but not once does he let that love overpower the story. And he doesnt give anyone a free ride. Everyone here is flawed, everyone is damaged, and the movie asks now what? The acting of Ray Allen, known for his basketball skills and not his acting, are passable, if not great, but man alive, Denzel Washington as Jake rocks the house, as does the rest of the cast. And in all honesty, Allen, while he isnt great, holds his own and doesnt become a detriment.
The film does have perhaps too much going on. Everyone seems to have a sub-plot and an angle and it gets hard to keep it straight. The crane shots verge on being distracting as well cause, DAMN, there are a LOT of them. Like, a lot a lot. The ending seems at first to be a bit much, but it fits on the lyrical style the film has created and it works. Taken symbolically, its a hell of an ending.
I hope that people re-discover this film, as its not at all what I believe it to be, and thats just a basketball movie. This is far, far more. Taking basketball and using that as a background, Lee has created a wonderful story about a father desperately fighting for redemption as he fights his own past.