Starring Terrence Howard, Bernie Mac, Kimberly Elise, Tom Arnold, Nate Parker, Kevin Phillips, Evan Ross, Jesse Moore, Trevor Morgan, Regine Nehy, Scott Reeves, Brandon Fobbs, Alphonso, McCauley, Jeff Galpin and Gary Anthony Sturgiss.
Screenplay by Kevin Michael Smith & Michael Grizzard and J. Mills Goodloe & Norman Vance, Jr.
Directed by Sunu Gonera.
Distributed by Lionsgate Films. 94 minutes. Rated PG.
I never totally trust movies which are “based on a true story.” Most of them are much more “based” than “true.” I don’t know exactly how Hollywood-ized this version of the story of Jim Ellis is. I have met the man and I do know that he really was a swim coach who opened a pool in a run-down pool in the Philadelphia ghettos in the mid-70s and started a team which quickly became champions.
Like most of these films, Pride takes a lot of liberties with the facts. You know what? It works, though. Pride is a funny, smart, inspirational sports picture that makes you think that even if this isn’t the way it went down, it really should have been.
Terrence Howard (Crash, Hustle & Flow) plays Jim Ellis with laid-back, quiet charm and calm but with a mostly controlled undercurrent a seething pool of anger and resentment. When Ellis takes over a decrepit youth center which is scheduled for closure, he is desperate for any job and not expecting to get anywhere with this dead-end position.
He intrudes upon the long-time janitor (Bernie Mac), a crotchety aging guy who has resigned to the fact that he has wasted his time in this job for decades, but he has no other options. Bernie Mac, who has rarely reached the comic heights of his TV series on the big screen, comes damned close to stealing the film. He is both uproariously funny and surprisingly touching as a man who has given up on life only to find that he still has passion for his work.
When the city insists on removing the basketball rims from the playground, Ellis, a college swimmer, decides to clean and open the long-shuttered pool. At first the local kids mock the idea of swimming, but through Ellis’ passion they become intrigued with the idea of swimming and competing. They find a purpose and it keeps them mostly out of trouble and off of the streets.
Sometimes the story can be a little too black-and-white – literally. The scenes with the team’s main opposition – the rich, lily-white, and not-so-subtly racist (and wholly fictional) Main Line Academy may be somewhat based on fact, but they are done a little too heavy-handedly. Tom Arnold is surprisingly good as the vaguely prejudiced Coach of the Academy, though.
As a lifelong Philadelphian, it was a little distracting that most of the film was not done in the city (it was mostly shot in Shreveport, Louisiana.) Then, one of the few real shots of the city showed all the gleaming glass towers of the skyline, none of which were there in 1974, when the film took place. There was a gentlemen’s agreement that no building would be higher than City Hall until the mid-80s. It made me wonder if they couldn’t find stock footage of the city from that time, or at the very least digitally erase the skyscrapers. Now, granted, people who don’t know the city that well would probably never even catch this anachronism, but for Philadelphians or anyone who knows the city pretty well, it sticks out like a sore thumb.
However, even if the scenery is a little off the mark, the vibe of the city in the 70s is caught well. This is augmented by a soundtrack made mostly of classic 70s Philadelphia International soul hits by the likes of the O’Jays, The Staple Singers and the Isley Brothers.
There is nothing overly original about Pride, but that’s okay. It tells a very good story, and it tells it well. What more can you ask for? (3/07)
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2007 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: February 28, 2007.