Monday, June 14, 2010

That Championship Season (1982)

Subtle, but powerful film about a state champion high school basketball team reunites as middle aged men to support one of them running for mayor. The four present teammates are played by Paul Sorvino, Stacey Keach, Martin Sheen, and Bruce Dern, and their coach is Robert freaking Mitchum. Most of the action takes place in and around Mitchum's house as the men drink, argue, and bond over memories of the champions they once were while facing themselves, for once, as the men they have become. The mayor (Bruce Dern) is an empty hand-shaker, Sorvino's businessman is a greedy lech, Keach's campaign manager is an obediant lackey, and Sheen is a wandering drunk. Mitchum coaches them on their personal lives well into their middle age, maintaining that as proud as he is of the championship cup that adorns his living room, "You guys are my real trophies." The film was written and directed by Jason Miller, Father Karras from The Exorcist, and the film feels very real and unrehearsed; the acting has a spontaneous, natural feeling to it, and the dialogue is both subtextual and immediate, always giving us, the viewer, more information than the stubborn, middle-aged former champions in the film. The house does not imprison the action, although it is there that the most interesting dynamics are allowed to take precedent once the backstories have been established. The old basketball game itself, which is the focus of the 1998 TV movie remake (with Sorvino as the coach), is less relevant here than the current mayoral election, which is driving the men to sacrificing their integrity for their ideas of success that have tortured them since their teens. The notion of looking back on the faded glory of youth and holding yourself up to the standard you sets for yourself as a child is the main idea here, and it is pretty extraordinarily conceived and executed.

Highly Recommended for fans of chamber dramas and once-location dramas. However, equal to this is the remake, which was made for Showtime, but still rivals this in terms of performance and production value. It is hard to single out a performance to recommend, but if Mitchum had the screen time of the others, his paternal, yet endlessly demanding nurturing of his boys' competitive urges would certainly take the cake.

No comments:

Post a Comment