Rated PG - Running Time: 1:53 - Released 9/29/00

From the unlikely pairing of Walt Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer films comes the latest heroic Denzel Washington picture, Remember The Titans. Based on the true story of a black football coach who was transferred to a formerly white school in Alexandria, Virginia, just as the new policy of integration was being introduced in 1971, and, battling serious racial tension, brought the school all the way to the state championships, Boaz Yakin's film offers Washington the second opportunity in the last 12 months to play a historical figure (after his Oscar-nominated part in last year's The Hurricane). Titans has all the excitement, tears, and hard-hitting gridiron footage of any other football movie, and while Washington's performance is a good as ever, it's also the same as ever. The film features good supporting performances by Will Patton and a mixed-race cast of young actors, and tells a triumphant story that should be told. I just wish director Yakin had chosen someone besides Hollywood's leading black actor to star in it.

Through Gregory Allen Howard's screenplay, we learn of the T.C. Williams High School's struggles in the early '70s as a result of forced busing of black students to the school. Not only were the students integrated, however, but the faculty as well; in fact, popular head football coach Bill Yoast (Patton), who is expected to make it to the hall of fame, is replaced by one of the new black teachers, Herman Boone (Washington). Although Boone, having lost his last promotion to an underqualified white man, has no desire to do the same thing to Yoast, he seems as unable to buck the system as anyone else. The powers that be have decided that Boone will be head coach for at least one year, so Yoast is demoted to assistant coach amid the heated protests of his white players and their parents. Luckily, Yoast does not bear the racial prejudice shown by most of his friends; while he is not comfortable with the change, he is willing to accept Coach Boone before anyone else is.

Although the white players at first refuse to play with their new black classmates, or under Coach Boone, it is Yoast who convinces them to roll with the punches. During a long segment that takes place at pre-season football camp, most of the boys learn to set aside their differences and work together. However, when school starts, the pressure from their racist friends, teachers, and parents threatens to derail their newfound cameraderie. Meanwhile, Boone is informed that if he loses one game this season, he will be sent packing.

While Denzel Washington is obviously a good actor, I think director Yakin made an unfortunate error in casting him to play this part. Washington has gotten himself into a rut by playing the same kind of hero in almost every film he does, and his performance is starting to come off stale and overly rehearsed. With a few exceptions, Denzel's characters are always intelligent, charming, cool under pressure — and this is no different. Coach Boone is too similar to wrongly imprisoned fighter Rubin Carter (The Hurricane), or paralyzed forensics investigator Lincoln Rhyme (The Bone Collector), or FBI agent Anthony Hubbard (The Siege), or Lieutenant Colonel Nathaniel Serling (Courage Under Fire). His part in He Got Game was a nice transition; convicted murderer Jake Shuttlesworth was a flawed individual, but Washington needs to take more parts that vary from his well-established hero mold. That said, Titans is still a moving story with nice work from young actors Wood Harris and Ryan Hurst, among others, as the young men forced to see beyond skin color. ****

Copyright 2000 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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