Remember the Titans

"Nothing can ever come between us. We're a team."

Remember the Titans has its heart in the right place but at its core the film has only the same old platitudes about racism. It’s preachy, yes, but that’s not the problem: it doesn’t have much to preach about. The film was given an impeccable facade by director Boaz Yakin and infamous popcorn movie producer Joel Schumacher and there are some great performances here too. It’s disappointing that a production with so much at its disposal can only mumble “racism is bad.” The script is based on a true story but we have to believe that there was more to it than this.

It is 1971 and, in accordance with recently passed civil rights laws, a high school in Virginia is being integrated. Racial tensions are sky-high as it is; the school board escalates it by replacing the football team’s successful Coach Yoast (Will Patton) with the African-American Coach Boone (Denzel Washington). At first, Boone refuses, afraid that he will be hated if he steals the job of the popular white coach. But when a crowd of black neighbors gathers on his lawn and starts to applause he (not so reluctantly, it seems) accepts the job and offers Yoast the defensive coordinator position which he, after some deliberation, accepts as well.

Now comes the real problem: convincing the white players, who fear that their respective places are being threatened, and the black players, who have learned from years of discrimination to be wary, to play together as a team. It seems an impossible task at first, as the two groups try to kill each other every chance they get but Boone eventually wins them over by literally forcing them to become one collective.

The interesting character here isn’t Coach Boone but Coach Yoast, who isn’t a racist, as you might expect from a movie like this, but a good man struggling with his conceptions of right and wrong. At first he is insulted by the notion of working under a black man but he gradually begins to transform until, at the end, he becomes the real hero of this story. It’s criminal of the movie to downplay this character in favor of the far more run-of-the-mill storylines involving Boone and his players.

Denzel Washington is literally begging for an Oscar, with at least 4 big, earnest speeches scattered throughout the film. The best performance here, though, is by Will Patton who infuses his Coach Yoast with the humanity that’s strangely missing from Washington’s grandiose, larger-than-life, generically Sidney Poitier-ish Coach Boone. What a shame that he has been relegated to a supporting role and summarily ignored by, well, just about everyone.

Director Boaz Yakin (A Price Above Rubies), being given his first big-budget Hollywood feature, has crafted a slick, polished, undistinctive, unabashedly populist film. It’s the epitome of the crowd-pleaser. In his review, Joel Siegel proclaimed that he burst into tears 17 times; I did not cry, but I must admit that some scenes moved me. The obligatory “big game” scene was suspenseful even while being patently obvious.

Remember the Titans brings out all of the bells and whistles but they can’t conceal the fact that the film doesn’t convey more than a very vague “racism is bad” message. Yes, we should accept each other’s differences and live in peace and harmony forever and ever. Wouldn’t that be nice. Spike Lee recently released a scathing satire about how the television networks portray black people on screen. Many have said that he was making a moot point since the shows have long been reformed. Perhaps in his next film he can rail against screenwriters who insist on simplifying the complex issue of racism to a blurb.

-- Eugene Novikov

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