Laura Clifford Robin Clifford
"Remember the Titans" is a quality Hollywood production that handles its tale of the forced racial integration of a Virginia high school's football team in too black and white a manner. Indie director Boaz Yakin ("Fresh," "A Price Above Rubies") gets good performances from his ensemble cast, but balances his material so evenly that no surprises are forthcoming.
When Herman Boone (Denzel Washington) is overlooked for a coaching job in his native North Carolina because of his race, he takes a job in Alexandria, ironically displacing the popular, winning Coach Bill Yoast (Will Patton, "Armageddon"). Boone convinces Yoast to remain as his defensive coach and their clashing styles become complementary, allowing the men to gradually become friends. During boot camp, Boone nails his main objective - to create a team in spite of hostile racial tensions. Predictably, screenwriter Gregory Allen Howard frames this interlude with bus trips where the attempts of a few to engage the rest in song are squelshed on the way but harmonious upon return.
Indeed, there's a ying for every yang in this script. Boone's daughter is prissy and feminine while Yoast's is a nine year old football prodigy/tomboy. The seemingly most racist black, Julius (Wood Harris, "Above the Rim") and white, Gerry (Ryan Hurst, "Rules of Engagement") become the closest friends. A long haired Californian, nicknamed Sunshine (Kip Pardue) by his teammates, represents both the hippy and gay cultures to add additional complications to the racial issues. Boone is applauded outside his home by the black population upon his arrival, then later by his white neighbors when he leads his team to the regional championship. Everything's just a little too pat, including the musical selections which represent the era ("Spirit in the Sky," "Spill the Win," "Call on Me"). As in "The Replacements," the team gets a song and dance number with "Ain't No Mountain High Enough."
The ensemble cast does its best to flesh out their cliched, symbolic characters. Washington is solid as the unrelentingly tough Boone, although it's unlikely his Oscar hopes will be satisfied with this role. (Was his three a.m. team march to the Gettysburg battlefield intended to remind the Academy of his last win?) Patton does subtle work as the widowed single dad, although his constant strength of character doesn't allow for much in the way of change or development. Wood Harris moves from sullen and self reliant to warm and giving dependably while Hurst goes from redneck to social reformer with as much believability as time allows. Ethan Suplee ("American History X") is the good-natured John Candy element with his automatic, Louisianna army brat acceptance of his black teammates while Kip Pardue's presence strengthen's the 'people are all just people' theme with humor. Good in smaller roles are Craig Kirkwood as 'The Rev,' Earl C. Poitier as 'Blue,' and Ryan Gosling as Alan, the decent son of a pushy jock dad. Hayden Panettiere ("Message in a Bottle") has the 'almost-too-precocious' quality of Hallie Eisenberg as Yoast's daughter Sheryl.
Camerwork by the usually terrific Philippe Rousselot ("A River Runs Through It") is frequently too closely inside the action, obscuring a larger, more fully focussed point of view from the audience. The footbal action finally becomes exciting for the final, state championship game. The score by Trevor Rubin ("Armageddon") is tritely obvious.
"Remember the Titans" scores with its cast and its occasional lapses into freshness. The newly integrated teammates shock at the bussing riots which occur on the first day of school mirror our own disbelief of the memory.
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