"Remember the Titans" is a sports film that shares a number of similarities
with "Hoosiers." Both feature well-respected actors and talented newcomers
in stories based on fact. Both showcase fiery coaches whose jobs are on the
line. Both are loaded with picturesque scenery and stirring music. And both
films succeed despite formulaic plotlines that, on paper, seem impossibly
The comparisons end there. While "Remember the Titans" is surprisingly
effective, its cheese factor is too high for it to be in the same league as
a gem like "Hoosiers." Still, the production has much to appreciate.
Writer Gregory Allen Howard got the idea for the film after moving from Los
Angeles back to his hometown of Alexandria, Virginia. Living just outside
the Washington D.C. beltway, he noticed something wonderful about race
relations in his city. "It's socially integrated in a way I'd never seen,"
he stated. "Movie theaters, restaurants, neighborhoods, I couldn't
understand why. Why here and almost nowhere else? I started asking around
and I kept hearing about this high school football team. I think it was my
barber who first told me about the Titans and these two coaches. I couldn't
imagine that a high school team could so effect an entire town. Some say
they saved the city."
Howard's research brought him to a pair of men who made a difference
(SPOILER ALERT: The following reveals plot points that will surprise no
one). In 1971, the Alexandria school board was forced to integrate an
all-black school with an all-white school. The fireworks begin when Bill
Yoast (Will Patton), head coach of the T.C. Williams High Titans, is
replaced by Herman Boone (Denzel Washington), a coach brought in from South
Carolina. The decision infuriates local fans unable to understand why a man
with seniority, a terrific reputation and a pending spot in the Hall of Fame
would be treated so shabbily.
Yoast refuses to accept a position as an assistant until he learns that his
entire team plans to boycott the season. Grudgingly, he signs on, determined
to support his boys while maintaining a healthy distance from his successor.
Where Yoast is a laid-back sort, Boone turns out to be a ball of fire.
Taking advantage of the summer, he puts the boys through an intense boot
camp, shouting things like "Football is not fun" and "Football is not a
democracy, it's a dictatorship" to his smoldering team of big, surly black
and white athletes. He forces them to get to know one another, a process
designed to teach the folly of prejudice. Gradually, the majority comes
around and, by the end of summer, the young men bond into a cohesive group.
Then the school year starts and the team realizes that the town does not
share their newfound sense of unity. Protesters line the streets on opening
day, loudly voicing their fury over bussing. Football players socializing on
weekends with their new friends are met with glares and insults from
classmates repulsed by racial intermixing. Coach Boone gets a brick chucked
through his window.
Can the boys' friendships withstand the overt bigotry? Will Boone and Yoast
make nice? Can Boone save his job by leading the team to a winning season?
Is there anyone who doesn't know the answers to these questions? (END
As with any film produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, the man who inflicted
"Armageddon" and "Coyote Ugly" on a world that never did him any harm,
"Remember the Titans" suffers from an overly processed feel. In fact, there
are numerous moments coated with cinematic Velvetta, all melted and gooey.
How do the racially diverse teammates bond? By singing a golden oldie
together, of course. The "let's affirm our relationship by belting out a
Motown tune" syndrome, previously confined to chick flicks, is now infecting
action movies as well. The football team does three, count 'em, three
musical numbers - in a movie about racism! When the boys aren't singing, an
overbearing score oozes over scenes, determined to make sure we understand
exactly how to emotionally respond.
Nearly as annoying is Hayden Panettiere in the role of Yoast's precocious
9-year-old kid, Sheryl. One of the reasons the real-life Yoast participated
in this project was to see his daughter, who died of a heart attack at 34,
portrayed on-screen. His sentiment is understandable, but I wonder if he
found Panettiere's stilted performance a fitting tribute.
Thankfully, the rest of the cast delivers. Denzel Washington is solid,
giving just the right amount of shading to his drill instructor persona.
Will Patton contributes a nicely detailed turn as well, but the real stars
of the film are the boys, particularly Wood Harris as quarterback Julius
"Big Ju" Campbell and Ryan Hurst, who is terrific as team captain Gerry
"Remember the Titans" shines despite its problem areas, thanks to strong
casting and the sincerity of Gregory Allen Howard's screenplay. While the
story ends exactly the way you expect it to end, Howard makes sure you see
that, even at the height of celebration, bigots still stand on the
sidelines. Even Jerry Bruckheimer's melted Velveeta can't cover them up.
Copyright © 2000 Edward Johnson-Ott