He Got Game

Memphis Flyer

DIRECTED BY: Spike Lee

REVIEWED: 05-11-98

Director Spike Lee’s handiest device is the montage. It’s not very subtle – Lee never is – but it does work to make a particular point. Take, for instance, the one in Do The Right Thing, in which people of different races are shown spewing slurs to demonstrate the pervasiveness of bigotry. Then there’s the one in Crooklyn where two angel-dusted friends float through their neighborhood embodying the sort of drippy, unhinged feel of the early Seventies.

In his latest film, the basketball drama He Got Game, Lee chooses a neighborhood pick-up game for this effect. The scene is set to a Western theme, as the players slam and taunt. This is the game at its most basic, its purest, and the players are today’s urban cowboys, the heroes.

Yet, outside the boundaries, there is a spoiling influence – the pressure on these kids to make good, for their families and their friends. Hoop Dreams, the excellent 1994 documentary following two inner-city Chicago kids as they commit their lives to a shot at the NBA, serves as proof of the back-breaking nature the game can take. After the film came out, Lee said he was going to make his own version of these boys’ story. And while years have passed and Lee has released a number of movies in between, this is pretty much it.

In Hoop Dreams, one of the boys had a father who was, to the growing resentment of his son, in and out of his life and on and off drugs. In He Got Game, this man comes in the form of Jake (Denzel Washington). Jake has been released from jail for one week in order to convince his basketball whiz son, Jesus (played by Milwaukee Buck Ray Allen) to play for the governor’s alma mater, with the promise that if he succeeds in his mission he’ll be released from jail early. Jake is not the only one looking for salvation from his aptly named son; Jesus is surrounded by people with a vested interest in the decisions he makes.


Jake (Denzel Washington) pleads for mercy from Jesus (Ray Allen).

Lee’s love of the game is apparent. And while he pooh-poohs some of its excesses, he’s not above reveling in some others. He leads Jesus through a variety of temptations, one being a comic turn on a recruiting trip where Jesus is feted by two naked, busty white women. He also crams a number of cameos from an all-star lineup of college coaches and pros such as Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal. Lee’s ace-in-the-hole, though, is Washington’s humble performance. Despite all Lee’s name-dropping, Washington’s the real professional of He Got Game.

--Susan Ellis

Full Length Reviews
He Got Game

Capsule Reviews
He Got Game
He Got Game
He Got Game
He Got Game

Other Films by Spike Lee
Clockers
Four Little Girls
Get On the Bus
Girl 6
Summer of Sam

Film Vault Suggested Links
Unstrung Heros
The Winter Guest
Childhood's End

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