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'Remember the Titans' glosses over race issues; Washington coasts through performance

Oct. 10, 2000

Movie Review



In Remember the Titans, Denzel Washington portrays Herman Boone, a football coach assigned to head up the new, racially mixed team at T.C. Williams High School. The picture, produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and based on a true story, is set in 1971, just after the Alexandria, Va., school board has been forced to integrate a local black school with a local white one.

In addition to the hiring of a black coach, the former head coach of the white school, Bill Yoast (Will Patton), is demoted to defensive coordinator with his pride and hall-of-fame nomination looming.

The racial tension, which seems insurmountable at the setting of the movie, is dispelled amongst the players early on, during an intensive summer football camp at the fictitious Gettysburg College.

The Titans' new solidarity is challenged upon their return by a society still mired in racism -- and it is up to Boone and his Titans, who, in Greek mythology, 'were greater than the gods' to save the day.

Aside from a few variations, it's Denzel versus the world again, with Washington vying as a morally righteous crusader.

This time, he plays the cover of an equal opportunity drill sergeant who treats each team member, regardless of race, with a certain blend of relentlessness and respect. In 113 minutes, he becomes the embodiment of Martin Luther King Jr. and Vince Lombardi rolled into one nostalgically omnipotent tough love saint.

The redundancy does not end at that redundant redundancy. At one point during football boot camp, there is a locker room sing

along of Ain't No Mountain High Enough (as if Marvin Gaye hasn't been exploited by these food-to-fuel-the-human-spirit tonics enough).

With obvious time sequences and 'your mama' jokes thrown in as a method of 'soul brotha' induction, the poor character development portrays the roots of 1970s black America as crudely irreverent and non-substantial.

It could be counted as just another notch on the perpetual belt of cinematic trounces.

However, with little objectionable material, Remember the Titans is the rarest kind of PG-rated film that entertains both adults and children, who, in the process, may even learn a thing or two about the importance of character and morals within every individual.

Notable supporting actors like Ryan Hurst (of 1998's Saving Private Ryan) playing head captain Gerry Bertie, and Wood Harris (from 2000's Committed) playing Julius Campbell provide dimension to a potentially flat character line. Other notables include newcomer Ryan Gosling as Allan Bosley; Kip Pardue (from the film Whatever It Takes) as the charming, peacemaking hippie Sunshine; and Ethan Suplee, portraying the overweight Lastik, whose stature and personality provides the initial laissez-faire among the players at camp.

Washington, for taking a role that he could do in his sleep, gives a wide-awake performance in a convincing way. The 45-year-old actor has a wife and several pre-college age children to provide for, but it is time that he took on a character with more dimension.