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Movie Review

He Got Game

MPAA Rating: R for pervasive language, strong sexuality, some drug content and violence

Reviewed by: Bob Thompson
CONTRIBUTOR

Very Offensive
Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Adults
Genre:
Sports Drama
Length:
134 min.
Year of Release:
1998
R

Starring: Denzel Washington, Ray Allen, Milla Jovovich, Rosario Dawson, Hill Harper, Zelda Harris / Director: Spike Lee / Released by: Buena Vista

“He Got Game” is a sports drama detailing the sad story of one black family in New York City’s Coney Island, and their desperate attempt to make it out of the projects. This is a sordid film by Spike Lee about corruption and betrayal.

The GAME is basketball, and it is the ticket out of poverty, filth, and hopelessness for one Jesus Shuttlesworth (Ray Allen)--a very promising senior at Abraham Lincoln High School. Jesus' father (Denzel Washington) is a convicted felon who manages a temporary exit from jail, and a possible reduced jail term if he pleases jail Warden Wyatt (Ned Beatty). The story, what there is of it, revolves around the surprise visit of this jailed father to his angry, alienated son, and daughter.

Besides the father/son conflict, this is also the story of people’s greed. Almost every person Jesus Shuttleworth knows comes after him for something because they know he is about to make it big. This list includes his coach, Uncle Bubba (whom he had lived with), and his girlfriend.

To its credit, “He Got Game” actually goes out of its way to portray the Lord Jesus and the Bible in a positive way. In one early confrontational scene between the convict father and his skeptical son, Jesus S. asks his father if now, suddenly he has found God, to which he replies “What’s wrong with finding Jesus… people make mistakes… they veer off the path. God forgives… I hope you will too.” But it is difficult to tell in this film whether the gratuitous profanity and sex scenes, bordering on the pornographic, punctuate the story line, or if they are the story line, set off by bits of sometimes touching dialogue or tense interaction between two children and their father. In this film you can be sure that, if you have watched two or three scenes without graphic nudity and sex acts, then, a scene containing these is up next. This one misses the mark; don’t waste your time and money.

Viewer Comments
When all was said and done, I had to ask myself, why in the world did I even think I would enjoy this movie? Perhaps because I’m somewhat of a basketball fan. Or maybe because I though Denzel Washington made better movie choices. Or was it the story of a father and sons struggle to reconcile. All of that aside this movie was a complete and total assault on my senses. Any thread of a message was completely lost amongst the abundant sex, nudity, and profanity. In fact, my wife wanted to leave the movie early. I wish I had listened to her, but I was thinking that somewhere along the way some kind of point would be made. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. Save your time and save your money. This movie will leave a foul taste in your mouth.
—Joe W., age 30
The bad: this film features a heavier-than-usual dose of sex and nudity, which it could have done without. A lot ot the language is pretty bad, too, but what else can you expect from an industry that sees a well-placed cuss word as “character development.” The good: I’ve admired Spike Lee’s work for a long time, so I decided to give this one a shot. He didn’t entirely disappoint me. Though nowhere near as good as his previous film, Get On The Bus, He Got Game is still a good film for those who can stomach the more sordid aspects. Underneath all the grime, there’s actually a very powerful and touching story, about a father trying to reconnect with his son. Denzel Washington a stirring and very heartfelt performance, one of his best in years. In that sense, I thought that the reviewer gave this film very short shrift.

The film is also a sobering look a the enormous pressure faced by a top high school athlete in choosing a school, as well as the greed and competition that inevitably surround the process. And yes, the film does portray Christianity in a positive light. Although some of his actions are less than perfect, Denzel Washington’s character appears to have a genuine religious conviction, and I would have liked to have seen that aspect of his life given more exploration. This movie definitely isn’t for everyone due to the gratuitous sex and nudity (which generally have little to with the plot) and the language (which is about what you’d expect from Hollywood).

Not a terrific movie (go rent Get On The Bus if you want to see Spike Lee really shine), but it’s pretty good if you can stomach it.
—Wes, 22