Remember the Titans
Screenplay : Gregory Allen Howard
MPAA Rating : PG
Year of Release : 2000
Stars : Denzel Washington (Coach Herman Boone), Will Patton (Coach Bill Yoast), Scott Miles (Principal), Donald Adeosun Faison (Petey)
Remember the Titans uses the sports movie formula to tell the true story of forced integration in an Alexandria, Virginia, high school in 1971. The script by first-time writer Gregory Allen Howard pulls out all the cliches of both the sports movie and the race-related social drama, but somehow director Boaz Yakin (A Price Above Rubies) makes it work. It's an updated combination of Rocky and any one of the "conscience liberalism" dramas of the '40s and '50s starring Harry Belafonte or Sidney Poitier.
In this way, Remember the Titans feels like something of a throwback to the old days, and certainly one of the last projects you would expect from producer Jerry Bruckheimer, whose last two projects, Gone in 60 Seconds and Coyote Ugly, were each failures in their own way. Remember the Titans constantly treads along the edge of patronizing the audience with too-obvious social messages and simplistic accounts of highly charged racial material. To wit, the film does include a wholly unnecessary framing device that allows for a redundant voice-over narration that essentially spells out the film's message in the last five minutes, as if it hadn't been made clear enough during the film's duration.
Denzel Washington holds the center of the film as Herman Boone, a black football coach who is given the head coaching position at W.C. Williams high school when it is integrated. This means that the much loved and highly successful white head coach, Bill Yoast (Will Patton), will have to be demoted to assistant. At first, Boone resists this move, but once he realizes it is inevitable, he assumes his position with passion and intensity. He is as determined to force the black and white players to get along as he is determined to mold a great football team.
Of course, few actors can portray fiery conviction like Washington. He plays Boone as a complicated individual, a man of great integrity who still falls prey to his own ego from time to time. Boone is as intelligent as he is dedicated, but he is not perfect. Sometimes he pushes his players too hard, and even when faced with this fact, he refuses to give in. Still, he is exactly what the high school needs: a determined, proud coach who will not let anything get in his way.
Remember the Titans is at its most interesting when it depicts the relationships among the newly integrated players. Much of the racial tension is played out in the broadest possible strokes, and the manner in which the players come together over a two-week summer training camp seems a little too easy. Yet, the young athletes are played so well by a host of fresh faces with natural talent that we believe in them and their ability to strike friendships across hotly divided racial barriers. The film is at its smartest when it depicts the pressure exerted on the new, fragile friendships when they return to school and find it under siege by angry white parents who don't want busing and integration.
Of course, much of the film takes place on the gridiron, and all the football sequences are played out in typical, if not completely competent, fashion. The players face adversity and overcome it, as do the coaches, especially Yoast, who must fight down his own ego and turn his back on many racist colleagues in order to work with Boone, who is not always that easy to work with.
In the end, Remember the Titans delivers the intended message in no uncertain terms: blacks and whites can get along. That its trajectory to the end is obvious is a potential weakness to be sure, but movies like this don't succeed on being narratively tricky or morally ambiguous. Remember the Titans is a message movie through and through, and it is successful in that it delivers its message and entertains at the same time without being overbearing.
©2000 James Kendrick