The Express – Blu-ray Review
By Jeff Swindoll Jan 21, 2009, 13:27 GMT
Witness the inspirational true story of a real American hero. Rising from the humblest of beginnings, Ernie Davis (Rob Brown) overcame impossible odds to become the first African-American to win college football’s greatest honor – the Heisman Trophy. Starring Dennis Quaid as the hard-nosed coach that helped drive him to greatness, The Express is a powerful story of triumph on and off the field that will have you cheering again ...more
It’s probably fitting that the biopic of Ernie Davis is coming out right before the first black president of the United States is inaugurated as well as after Martin Luther King Day. Both the story of Davis and of Barak Obama broke down race barriers and has the ability to inspire.
As a youth Ernie Davis (Rob Brown) was raised by his grandfather Pops (Charles S. Dutton) when his mother couldn’t make ends meet. His inspiration was not only his grandfather, but black baseball player Jackie Robinson. When his mother is once again able to take care of Ernie, he’s forced to move with her and has to leave Pops behind.
On the way into his new town, he sees that some football tryouts are being held and this proves fortuitous as he carries his love and skill at the game into his high school career. He becomes the most sought after recruits in the country.
University of Syracuse coach Ben Schwartzwalder (Dennis Quaid) is losing his star running back Jim Brown (Darrin Dewitt Henson) to the Cleveland Browns. He sees film of Davis and is impressed. He takes Brown with him to meet Davis and soon Davis is attending the University of Syracuse and playing for the Orangemen. He makes friends with one of the few other blacks on the team, J.B. (Omar Benson Miller), but faces prejudice from his fellow team members.
It doesn’t help that Schwartzwalder makes him wear the #44 jersey that Brown had just vacated. Davis proves himself and begins a meteoric rise for the Orangemen. He thinks it unlikely that he’ll win the coveted Heisman Trophy. He and another black athlete are up for the prize, but when the winner’s name is announced they both look to the third white player nominated, but fate has another winner in mind.
This might be akin to telling the person in line to see Titanic that the boat sinks in the end, but Davis was the first African American to win the Heisman Trophy and that’s why he’s treated to this biopic. Not that Davis didn’t have talent on the field as well, but that’s why he got his name in the history books.
I’ll not divulge the ending of the film though as fate deals him a much more severe blow after this prize. As we’re living through historical events, the seating of the first black president, and remembering those who historically fought for equality, Martin Luther King Day, it may be fitting that the film honoring Davis is released in the middle of these events.
Davis certainly faced a great deal of adversity and was treated rather harshly when the Orangemen went to Texas to play the University of Texas. We’ve come a long way baby.
Rob Brown is fantastic as Davis and well captures that youthful charm and love of the game. Davis doesn’t start out to be a role model, only to play the game the best that he can, but he discovers that he’s a role model whether he wants to be or not and eventually embraces this role. It’s great to see the actor go through these stages and Brown is excellent at them.
Quaid is also good in the tough as nails coaching role, but plays Schwartzwalder constantly scowling (which may be true, I don’t know) and he doesn’t seem to be a tolerant as we might want him to be. His eye is on coaching his football team and not on any sort of civil rights agenda.
He doesn’t actively hate Davis or anything, in fact he drives all his players with equal ferocity and brutality, but I never got the feeling that Quaid turned into a civil rights supporter or pioneer though his association with Brown or Davis. There are some hints of him becoming admiring towards Davis, but I can’t see him marching in a protest with him (again, I don’t know how he was in real life).
The film is certainly uplifting no matter what your color and I was glad to get a glimpse into the life of this pioneer.
The Express is presented in a 1080p high definition transfer (2.40:1). Special features include a commentary by director Gary Fleder. You also get 7 minutes of deleted scenes with an optional commentary by Fleder. The 16 minute “50th Anniversary of the 1959 Syracuse National Championship” are interviews with eight members of the team sharing their memories of the time. It’s exclusive to the Blu-ray, but oddly it and the deleted scenes are the only special features in standard definition.
The rest of the special features are in high definition. They include the 14 minute “Making of the Express,” the 13 minute “Making History: The story of Ernie Davis,” the 7 minute “Inside the Playbook: Shooting the Football Games,” and the 5 minute “From Hollywood to Syracuse: The Legacy of Ernie Davis.” The disc also features the ability to bookmark your scenes using Universal’s My Scenes as well as BD-Live functionality.
The Express is a wonderfully acted look at a time when equality wasn’t even close to fruition. We look back in time and see that maybe the “good ole’ days” weren’t so good after all. However, this is a fine film that looks at a pioneer, though he might not have set out to be, in what we’re experiencing today.