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The Express a.k.a. “The Express: The Ernie Davis Story”

MPAA Rating: PG-Rating (MPAA) for thematic content, violence and language involving racism, and for brief sensuality

Reviewed by: Malaika Ware

Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Biography, History, Drama, Adaptation, Sports
2 hr. 15 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
October 10, 2008 (wide—2,700 theaters)
DVD: January 20, 2009
Copyright, Universal Pictures Copyright, Universal Pictures Copyright, Universal Pictures Copyright, Universal Pictures Copyright, Universal Pictures Copyright, Universal Pictures Copyright, Universal Pictures Copyright, Universal Pictures Copyright, Universal Pictures Copyright, Universal Pictures
Relevant Issues
Copyright, Universal Pictures

RACISM—What are the consequences of racial prejudice and false beliefs about the origin of races? Answer

Racism, Racial Issues and Christianity
Get biblical answers to racial hot-topics. Where did the races come from? How did skin color come about? Why is it important to have a biblical foundation for such issues?
Featuring: Dennis Quaid, Clancy Brown, Darrin Dewitt Henson, Rob Brown, Geoff Stults, Justin Martin, Charles S. Dutton, Chadwick Boseman, Walker Howard, Saul Rubinek, Ridge Canipe, Chelcie Ross, Frank Grillo, Omar Benson Miller, Aunjanue Ellis, Enver Gjokaj, Angelina Lyubomirova, Evan Jones, [more]
Director: Gary Fleder
Producer: Derek Dauchy, John Davis, Damien Saccani, Ezra Swerdlow
Distributor: Universal Pictures

This film is based on the book Ernie Davis: The Elmira Express by Robert Gallagher.

“He changed our country… one yard at a time.”

The story begins with a young Ernie Davis (Justin Martin) and a young Will Davis Jr. (Justin Jones), happily collecting soda bottles along the town’s railroad tracks. Soon, they are confronted by a gang of white boys (approximately 10-15) hurling racial epithets and threatening to beat them up if they (young Ernie and young Will) do not give up their bags of soda bottles. Overwhelmed with fear, young Will drops his bag and jumps onto the side of a train that was conveniently passing by. Facing a seemingly inevitable situation, young Ernie, who is now surrounded by these boys who are threatening him, takes off running with both bags in hand. He runs so fast that neither the boys that were surrounding him, nor the ones who were hiding in the bushes and trees, could catch him!

Prior to watching the film, I did not know much about Ernie Davis, but it was the opening scene that gave me an idea of the level of talent and speed he possessed, even as a child.

According to the film, Ernie Davis struggled with stuttering as a child, but his grandfather (Charles S. Dutton), with whom he lived in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, apparently, helped him to overcome the problem by practicing his reading… of the Bible. Soon after the opening scene, the audience is introduced to Ernie’s mother (Aunjanue Ellis), who has recently remarried and is ready for Ernie to join her and her new husband in Elmira, New York. While young Ernie excelled in the Small Fry Football League, dealing with racism is still apart of his everyday life.

Fast forward to Ernie’s (Rob Brown) senior year in high school, and he is being recruited by approximately 50 schools, one of which is Syracuse University, whose football team is coached by Ben Schwartzwalder (Dennis Quaid) and led on the field by Jim Brown (Darrin Dewitt Henson), a recently drafted player for the Cleveland Browns. From there, the film focuses on Davis’ time at Syracuse, where he not only shocked the college football world with his amazing skills, but he stood up to the harsh realities of racism that infected this country at that time.

I think there is much to glean from Ernie Davis’ character, as portrayed on the big screen. Davis exhibited admirablecharacteristics such as respectfulness, perseverance, self-control, submissiveness, obedience and humility. Nowadays, much of society seems to look negatively upon such qualities in a man (as opposed to a woman); however, God is pleased. Here is what God says in His Word (The Holy Bible) about these traits. With regard to respectfulness, perseverance and self-control, God says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23). With regard to submissiveness, God says, “Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is… submitting to one another in the fear of God” (Ephesians 5:17, 21). Finally, with regard to obedience and humility, God says “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus… And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him…” (Philippians 2:5, 8-9a).

“The Express” is rated PG for thematic content, violence and language involving racism and for brief sensuality, and it is for those reasons viewers may find the movie somewhat offensive. My opinion, though, is that if the movie powers-that-be omitted the violence completely, it would have been extremely difficult, if not impossible, to stay true to the story, so to speak. Unfortunately, racially-motivated violence was characteristic of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, during the time in which Ernie Davis lived. However, what I found very offensive was the profane language with which God’s name was used—and that was not necessary to include in the movie. The third of the Ten Commandments reads, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain” (Exodus 20:7).

Overall, I really enjoyed this film. I was inspired to continue in striving to be all that God created me to be, and I think other viewers will be, also. I think the filmmakers did a good job of tying up loose ends at the conclusion of the movie. I would personally recommend this movie for adults, however, due to the offensive content, I would not recommend it for teens.

Violence: Moderate / Profanity: Heavy / Sex/Nudity: None

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Comments below:
Positive—I'm old enough to remember the actual event of what this movie is all about. Sitting through the movie with my wife was truly like going back in time. At that time (late 50's & early 60's) I was living in west Texas and witnessed daily discrimination. I was also playing high school football. The general attitude of the average white male was that “colored” shouldn't be “allowed” to play football, and especially with “whites”! I guess a point I would like to make is that unless you were there at the time and living it, there is no way a movie can portray to the audience the daily build up of frustration and raw emotion that actually occurred. If you weren't there you have no emotional buy-in. Having said that I believe the film captured the spirit of the time and did it without the usual nastiness found in most of today's movies. I give it an overall “thumbs up”!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 4
Nick Brazell, age 65
Positive—This movie has an excellent moral lesson on equality for all man. It shows sportsmanship and treating others as the Bible tells us. In the movie the main characters biggest inspiration is his grandfather who in the first scene has him read Corinthians. Upon his grandfathers death, this passage is what helped him success. There are a lot of racial slurs and some swearing—luckily, not by the main character (hero of the story). If the audience is mature (7th grade and up) and already has an understanding of racial tensions in the US in that time period, the language has a place in giving a realistic version of racial bigotry in that period. There is one sense with some sexual advances by the character that could have solely been skipped in the making of the movie, however all in all it had a good moral lesson.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 3½
Lori Mancerster, age 38
Positive—I questioned whether to take my daughter to this movie, having read the review on this site that gave it such a low morality rating. But after seeing it, I see why the rating was low. The movie portrays many negative and at times very painful to watch treatments of others. But, never in the movie is the behavior condoned. Even the lines about, “that is just the way it is done,” come to being corrected later in the movie. I found this movie very well acted and portrayed. I loved the filmmaking quality and thought the story and script were very well written. What I loved most about this movie was all the issues that it opened up for me to talk with my daughter about. “The Express” is a great opportunity for people to witness racial injustice first hand and see that often times it just takes one person to stand up and say it has to stop. I highly recommend this film.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 5
Sharon, age 31
Positive—This movie had a great story about commitment and enrollment; it shows also the racial issues of those days. Mr. Davis had to conquer many obstacles, but was looking at the goal he put for himself when he was a young boy. He marked his generation as a young man, because he died at 23 years.

It shows that no matter the age group we are in, when you use your ability, you can impact the generation, no matter the circumstance coming your way. The ending of such a movie when dying young from cancer is always hard to watch—so I really like the fact we did not see him suffering and his body losing strength slowly, because of sickness. Instead, we saw him running on the railroad track as he used to do when he was a young boy!!

This was well done!! YES, the language was not that great, at times, but, overall, it was not bad. This is not a Christian movie. …
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 4
David, age 34 (Canada)


Negative—Me and my husband went to see this movie in the theater, thinking it would be a good movie. We expected a few choice words since it is dealing with racism and things, but we didn't expect the kind of language there was. They used God's name in vain over and over again, among other cuss words. And then, at one part of the movie, it shows the main character and his girlfriend on each other on the bed, and he takes her shirt off, and it shows her in her bra. I would not take children to see this movie, and would not recommend it to anyone, especially not someone who does not like to hear the name of God used as a cuss word.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 4
Angie, age 20
Comments from young people