FILM RATING: 5 stars
Every now and then, a small ‘David vs. Goliath’ film touches the hearts and souls of an entire generation of people. Hoosiers (1986) was that film for me and the rest of my Gen-X brethren. I remember going to a packed movie theater in the Fall of 1986, when I was 13 years old, and falling completely in love with Gene Hackman, Dennis Hopper and Barbara Hershey as actors. Coach Norman Dale, as played by Hackman, left me feeling completely inspired to conquer my own sport of swimming with my newly found belief that ‘anything’ was possible if I could dream it up and work hard enough for it. Hoosiers is a feel good family film that always delivers emotionally…and I never tire of watching it again and feeling those same emotions I felt as a 13-year old boy. My 14-year old cousin Drew wanted to review the film, and it was so great to see that nearly 25 years later, the film is still finding its audience.
When Hoosiers came out, I had seen Gene Hackman in Superman (1978) and Superman II (1980), but he played a wacky and comedic villain in those movies. It was Hoosiers that sparked Hackman’s dramatic acting career back into mainstream Hollywood as well as into my psyche as a serious actor. Same with Dennis Hopper. I’ve followed all of Hackman’s movies ever since Hoosiers and he remains to this day one of my favorite actors. He stars in no less than seven of my Top 100 movies of all time, including: Hoosiers (1986), Mississippi Burning (1998), Class Action (1991), Unforgiven (1992), The Firm (1993), Crimson Tide (1995), and Enemy of the State (1998). I’m not sure if any other actor can match that! If I had to pick a single movie to represent Hackman as an actor, it would have to be Hoosiers. His role as Coach Norman Dale has an enormous range of emotions and detailed character traits, from subtle to violent. And I think that’s what grabbed me the most in Hoosiers, because you fall in love with Coach Dale regardless of which emotion he is expressing. You love him for the flawed man that he is, much like Bad Blake in Crazy Heart (2009). Coach Dale cares deeply about the sport of basketball, his team, the players, his family, his friends, and all of the people he comes across in his life. And Gene Hackman brings Coach Dale to life like no one else could.
For those who would argue that Rudy (1993) is the best sports movie of all time, you’re in luck, because director David Anspaugh and writer Angelo Pizzo crafted both of these inspiring sports films. Hoosiers is about basketball, the importance of working as a team, and redemption, i.e. second chances like Coach Dale receives. Rudy is about football and the importance of the individual drive to succeed at something through hard work and perseverance. Both movies are at the top of the sports movie genre. But I think Hoosiers is where Anspaugh and Pizzo originated their magic touch for inspiration through sport and where they present the best movie package. Hoosiers is a Top 50movie for me (4.5 stars out of 5) and Rudy is Top 100 (4 stars out of 5). Hoosiers is definitely an 80s indie film. You can see that the production budget was meager, but Anspaugh does a lot with very little to craft a classic film. He makes the entire film feel exactly like rural Indiana in 1951, the time period in which the movie takes place. Having grown up in the Midwest (Madison, Wisconsin), I understand the importance of sports in high school there. And I understand the mindset of the people. So many of the supporting characters in Hoosiers remind me of family members and make me think of the way they must have lived during that era.
Coach Norman Dale is brought in as the new high school basketball coach for the tiny fictional town of Hickory, Indiana where basketball is EVERYTHING for the town and its people. He butts heads with many of the local townspeople as he builds his cinderella team from raw unrefined local talent. Along the way, Coach Dale wins over one person at a time, starting with one of the most highly regarded school teachers, played by Barbara Hershey, who is also his love interest. She eventually sees that while Coach Dale has a tough prickly exterior, he really does care about his players, the team, the school, and the town. He simply knows what needs to be done to win…and he has to break the players and towns people’s old mindsets and habits to make it happen.
Hoosiers is a movie that athletes and teams all over the world watch before they go into ‘battle’ to inspire them to believe that they too can win over odds stacked against them. It’s a movie that dreams big and makes you dream big, even though its packaged in a very humble way. The film deserves a restoration and remastering for what I assume will be a 25th Anniversary Bluray and DVD release next year (2011). I’ve got the 2-Disc Collector’s Edition DVD as well as the original DVD. Both look fine and sound fine on TV when you watch them and escape into the story. But under scrutiny, one can see that the film needs some love to bring its glory to our new HiDef digital standards. I know that nearly everybody has this movie on their Top Movie list. It’s my favorite sports movie of all time and it will always have a special place in my heart. It touched me as a young man at a time when hope and dreams were needed.