He Got Game

1998, Movie, R, 131 mins


Spike Lee's passion for basketball drives this drama about a father and his estranged son, a gifted high-school player on the brink of manhood. His name is Jesus (Ray Allen), one of many things he holds against his father Jake (Denzel Washington). The fact that Jake is in jail for killing his wife, Jesus' mother (Lonette McKee), is another. Jake is granted a sub-rosa one-week release by the governor, who wants Jesus to accept a scholarship to his alma mater and thinks Jake might be able to convince him. But Jake has to get in line, because everybody -- agents, college recruiters, basketball groupies and big men in the 'hood -- wants a piece of the serious, disciplined and ethical Jesus: "This is the most important decision of your life" is their unrelenting refrain. Though too long by a good half hour, Lee's latest film packs a genuine emotional punch, largely because its polemical agenda doesn't entirely eclipse the drama. And real-life hoop star Ray Allen more than holds his own against the ever-dependable Washington, giving a surprisingly subtle performance, particularly in his scenes with Zelda Harris, who plays the younger sister Jesus has cared for since their mother's death. That said, Lee's trademark tirades by montage are present in force, and his misogynist inclinations are allowed free rein: With the exception of Jesus' sainted mother and pre-adolescent sister, every woman in the film is a grasping slut, a dead-eyed sex toy or an out-and-out whore. Lee's use of Aaron Copland's music is an interesting but not altogether successful touch: He seems to want its insistent American-ness to underscore basketball's ability to unite people across barriers of sex, race and economics, but it's hard to divorce Copland's prickly, jazz-influenced compositions from their specific historical and aesthetic associations (the Lost Generation, the mythology of the West, National Geographic specials), none of which speak eloquently of hoop dreams. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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The Spike Lee Joint Collection, Vol. 1 (25th Hour / He Got Game) [Blu-ray]
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