October 8, 2000 -- "Remember the Titans" is the feel-good movie of the fall (I've always wanted to say that). This Disney film also has plenty of drama and humor to go with the usual sports clichés. The film details the meteoric rise of the Titans, an Alexandria, Va. high school football team. The 1971 team, fragmented by racial hatred, not only becomes integrated under the most unlikely circumstances, but it goes on to the highest levels of success on, and off, the field.
The school, T.C. Williams High School, is forced to integrate by court order and a black coach, Herman Boone, is hired to replace the popular and successful coach Bill Yoast. At first, Yoast decides to quit rather than work as an assistant to Boone. At first, Boone decides to decline the offer rather than obtain a coaching position because of the color of his skin. The black community persuades Boone to take the job. Yoast decides to become an assistant rather than see all of his white players boycott the team.
Yoast has a laid-back style of coaching, while Boone is a taskmaster who wants perfection from every player. They constantly clash over coaching philosophy. Boone is under intense pressure to win, or he knows he will be fired. Yoast is under pressure from friends to make sure that Boone does lose. The two gradually learn to respect each other.
At the same time, the black and white members of the team are learning the same grudging respect for each other, despite intense pressures from friends outside the team. The techniques used by Boone to force these two halves of the team together are interesting. Once combined, the two halves form a whole which was strong enough to withstand all the forces that tried to tear it apart. The story is all about being a part of something greater than ones self, of sacrifice and teamwork and lasting friendships. It is a very powerful story.
Denzell Washington, an Oscar-winning actor, plays coach Boone, while Will Patton, a well-known character actor, does an excellent job playing coach Yoast. There are a number of fine young actors in the roles of team members, highlighted by Ryan Hurst of "Saving Private Ryan" who plays team captain Gerry Bertier. He eventually becomes best friends with Julius Campbell (Big Ju), played by Wood Harris. The two, one white and one black, are the best players on the team. Their friendship helps smooth the way for integration at the school. Cheryl Yoast, the coach's daughter, played by Hayden Panettiere, is like a grown-up football coach in a little girl's body. The contrast between her and one of Boone's daughters is pretty funny. The acting in this film is good throughout, with Washington, Patton, Bertier and Harris being the standouts.
The problem I had with this film, however, despite that it is a true story, is that it has too many clichés. It didn't look like a true story, but rather a story that someone had taken apart, scrubbed out some of the realities that don't fit the formulas, and pasted it back together in Hollywood movie form. The result is a sports movie that looks a lot like other sports movies when it ought to be unique. The story makes it look like this one team fixed everything. In fact, it was just a start. Integration is still a work in progress after over 130 years since the end of the Civil War. There's no doubt about this, though, "Remember the Titans" is a story that's hard to forget. This film rates a B.
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