May 22, 2013
Written by Mark Schumann, Father of Three
Friday, 24 October 2008 10:13
Each week, the Reel Dad looks for a film for parents to share with children. Some of the reviewed films are new; some are classics; all are selected for their “nutritional value” as part of a family’s movie experience. This week, the Reel Dad takes a look at a new film, The Express.
There was a time when a movie’s box office performance was not a topic of everyday conversation. A movie could open, receive reviews, and be remembered or forgotten by moviegoers, without the media avidly reporting how much money it made over its opening weekend. Few outside the industry even cared if a movie made money; a movie could be well thought of even if a box office disappointment.
But that’s all changed. Opening week grosses have become such a spectator sport that, today, a movie’s weekend box office is reported even before the weekend ends. And when a movie does not draw audiences on its opening weekend, it is quickly deemed a failure no matter how worthwhile an experience it could offer.
The Express — the new biography of Ernie Davis, the first African American to win the Heisman Trophy — had a dismal box office take on its opening weekend. With a modest production cost of about $40 million, and an opening weekend of only $5 million, it was quickly assessed as a flop and, as a result, not worth a moviegoer’s attention. That I can even recall these numbers indicates the problem. A movie should stand on its merits, not its opening weekend numbers.
Fortunately, The Express — despite its performance at the box office — is well worth a visit to the local cinema. This entertaining, thought-provoking take on an important chapter in American and sports history, deserves a much better response than it has received. While football films have became a staple of movie entertainment in recent years, The Express reaches beyond the formula to offer an enlightening point of view on the role of race in a turbulent decade of sports and domestic balance.
Ernie Davis would have been, without question, a remarkable athlete in any age. That he rose to prominence during a period of strong racial tension brought more meaning to his accomplishment. With the backdrop of a racially divided America, Davis became not only a symbol of athletic excellence but a lightning rod of racial equality as well. That he broke racial barriers is well remembered; that he did so with such class and humanity is the athlete’s ultimate legacy.
The film beautifully portrays the challenges of the athlete and the meaning of his accomplishments. Charles Leavitt’s script — from the book by Robert Gallagher — gives the characters enough depth to reach beyond stereotypes and adds enough humor to save the film from getting trapped in its sentiment. Gary Fleder’s direction keeps the action moving fast enough to avoid getting bogged down in any one sequence. Best of all, the performances — especially Dennis Quaid as Davis’ football coach at Syracuse University — ground the film in an everyday reality that make the film accessible and memorable.
The lessons of The Express are essential at any time. They are especially important for our children to hear as they form their own views of the importance of a diversity of opinion and background. It’s up to us, as parents, to show our kids how rich a world we create when we respect all voices. Don’t let the box office report mislead you. The Express is worth seeing.
Note to Parents: If you are looking for an appropriate film for the family to share — with a message that everyone can embrace — check out the showing times for The Express. While some sequences of racial attitude may surprise your children, they can open the door to a meaningful discussion of how people lived in our country not all that many years ago. You don’t have to like football to embrace The Express.
* Content: High. Like most bio pics, The Express selects the episodes to highlight and skims over others, but emerges with a well-connected narrative.
* Entertainment: High. Although it sets out to deliver a message of tolerance and understanding, The Express offers enough fundamental entertainment to please any moviegoer.
* Message: High. While some parts of the message may be difficult to accept, as we want to believe we have progressed farther as people, the authenticity of the message is important for everyone to hear.
* Relevance: High. No matter how far removed, in geography and time, the incidents in the film may be from our daily lives, the emotions they represent could be just around the corner.
* Opportunity for Dialogue: High. Any opportunity to discuss social issues with your children should be welcome. This is a film that can help get you started.
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