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Fumbled Opportunity: 'Remember the Titans' Falls Short of Reality

By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 29, 2000


    Remember the Titans Denzel Washington coaches his team to higher moral ground in "Titans."
Walt Disney Pictures
Every time I see the command "Remember the Titans," I find myself thinking: Why should we remember the Titans?

The movie makes no compelling case because it's so formulaic, so predictable, so prosaic. You almost don't have to see it to know everything about it because it's been made so many times before, so much better. And whatever the real Titans accomplished in 1971, that's the one thing the movie buries. It forbids you to remember them by substituting cheesy cliches.

Much has already been written about how inaccurate the movie is as a recounting of that year's march to a state football championship by T.C. Williams High School's varsity 11 for Alexandria. In this respect, its chief failing is its reinvention of that city, a sophisticated, multicultural suburb with an actual French restaurant or two, as a small, isolated Southern town somewhere between Selma, Ala., and Meridian, Miss. You could write that off as mere simplification, I suppose, but it's really laziness. That's what cliches are: excuses for the dim of imagination and the bereft of energy.

The story, in case you've been on Mars or in Sydney, follows as two racially distinct schools are forcefully integrated (actually, there were three), and an African American football coach is given the big job as a sop to the black community while the white coach is relegated to second in command.

The two squads, the two coaches, the two communities struggle with their ignorance and fear of each other. Eventually, under the guidance of a coach who powerfully preached that, under the skin, blood and muscle and sinew are the same and that if you can stuff a run, pop a block or catch the sideliner, you will play. If you can't, you won't. And, more important, if you commit to the larger idea of team as opposed to the smaller idea of tribe, you will win.

The team starts winning, and it keeps winning, even as community pressure grows. Some of the white kids and some of the black kids actually become pals.

Hmmm. I don't want to give anything away, but do you suppose there's a big game on the last reel?

All this is not to find a single bad performance in the film. It is well-enough acted, particularly by Denzel Washington as Williams's head guy, Herman Boone, and Will Patton as his assistant, Bill Yoast, who edgily work out a relationship. The kids are all right. The other adults are caricatures.

The direction and production are fluent, if so anonymous that mentioning the names of the engineers pulling the switches is pointless. The music kabangs you over the head. And the message – brotherhood is good, hate is bad – is even correct.

But the movie's correctness, political or moral, wins it no points; in fact, maybe that's what's wrong with it. It's so smug and so proud of itself, and you can tell that everybody involved conceives of it as a civics lesson instead of a story, that they squeeze all the life out of it.

This is their "gift" to us. They seem to think they deserve endless credit for making "Remember the Titans," with its utter lack of sincerity, its bland whitewashing of human complexity and its tub-thumping earnestness. They seem to be saying: See, we could have made something like some of producer Jerry Bruckheimer's other mindless explosionfests, like "Armageddon" or "The Rock."

But it's no better than the typical Bruckheimer product and maybe not as good as "The Rock," which, for all its testosterone craziness, was at least committed to the idea of providing excitement. In fact, "Remember the Titans" feels far more like a public relations campaign for Bruckheimer to improve his image and win the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences than any commitment to adult moviemaking. It's cheap and facile.

Remember the Titans (113 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG for themes of mild racial tension.


Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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