Titans Tough to Take

Remember the Titans is now playing in theaters nationwide.

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One of the biggest and most compelling problems in criticism is how to

draw the line between real drama and crowd-pleasing wankery. The

difference exists in all forms of art, and all types of people fall for it.

The common notion is that history will decide between what is art and what

is merely posturing. There's a reason why we still perform Shakespeare as

often as possible, while Punch & Judy has fallen by the wayside. Yet, the

notion doesn't really hold up. Victor Hugo is pretty much the literary

equivalent of Bon Jovi, but people still read abridged versions of Les

Miserable and claim to actually like it.

Blatantly tugging at heartstrings will certainly go far, and

that explains why you can pretty much catch anything produced by Jerry

Bruckheimer on USA Networks twice a day and will continue to be able to do

so for about the next five hundred million years. Any new "drama" by

Bruckheimer is almost certain to be predictable, clichéd and overdone. Most

of all though, it will actually be high drama of the highest order and a

damn good show. That's definitely what Remember the Titans delivers.

Ostensibly based on a true story, Remember the Titans tells of

the conflict and difficulties faced by Herman Boone (Denzel Washington),

the new coach for the newly redistricted T.C. Williams High School. It's a

Virginia high school very concerned about its football program, and the

difficulties that arise include the fact that Boone was promoted over Bill

Yoast (Will Patton), a white man with not only a winning track record but

also seniority. The school board needed to make a concession to the black

community to avoid race riots after a black man was killed by a white store

owner, and Boone is it. So not only does he have to make the members of the

only mixed-race high football team in their division not kill each other,

he has to win every game since the school board is looking for any reason

to fire him.

Luckily, Boone has the discipline of a Navy Seal and the grit

to go with it, and by the end of training camp (the T.C. Williams High

School seems to have more resources and coaches than Cal itself does) he's

not only turned them into a solid football team, but he's inspired racial

unity alongside it. A 3 A.M. night run to Gettysburg with an accompanying

and inspiring speech has a large part to do with it, along with his program

of forced racial mixing. The black guys teach the white guys about soul

music, and the white guys suddenly find harmony (literally) and possibly

sexual healing.

Once camp is over and the team's back in their

not-so-harmonious hometown, racial tension builds right back up, and the

teams has to find peace all over again. While the extreme racism of the

town after the team's initial integration seems exaggerated but probably

was true, the amount of bonding and love presented by the end seems a bit

ridiculous. Characters have two choices - A) Live in said harmony with

peoples of all colors or B) get kicked off the football team and get

publicly criticized and humiliated. Absolutely no in-betweens here, and

while that's an nice notion, a reality check is sorely needed to make this

a compelling piece of actual drama.

Then again, drama may be the last thing this movie needs. The far

superior film, Any Given Sunday, may have caught much critical

drubbing and bombed at the box office, but in pretty much every single way

it was more inspiring, it portrayed race relations better and the football

truly was exciting. Remember the Titans, with all its clichés and

mediocrity, is already receiving critical accolades and will certainly

spark a small fire at the box office.

The reason? During the essential, racial-harmony-promoting game

play that wins the championship (you knew it would damn-well happen), the

press-screening audience I watched with burst into applause. We might as

well have been raising lighters into the air. This sure as hell didn't

happen during any point of Any Given Sunday. Like very few movies to

come around in a while, Remember the Titans gets the audience pulled

in as long as you're willing to roll with the punches and just not think

about it too much.

On the other hand, entertainment for its own purpose has a

value. We don't need to grow from everything we experience, and pure

entertainment is what Bruckheimer does best. As messages go, this film has

a good one, so it can't be described as a total waste of brain waves. As

scripts go, this film hits all the clichés, but it hits them right. As

actors go, Denzel Washington's in this one, and while it makes you want to

cry that he no longer is doing films where his extremely considerable

skills can be put to use (Malcolm X, Glory), he still lights things

up like a firecracker.

So, all I ask of you is to promise me this - if you go and see

this movie, enjoy it as the well produced film it is. Then go rent Any

Given Sunday, think about the two, and see which one you truly enjoyed

more. Mr. Jerry Bruckheimer has been living on a prayer for just a little

too long.


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