Director Spike Lees handiest device is the montage. Its 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 theres 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 todays
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
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 governors alma mater, with the promise that if
he succeeds in his mission hell 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).
Lees love of the game is apparent. And while he pooh-poohs some
of its excesses, hes 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 ONeal. Lees ace-in-the-hole, though, is Washingtons
humble performance. Despite all Lees name-dropping, Washingtons
the real professional of He Got Game.