2009 was a weaker year for documentaries, sadly. The previous year had provocative films like Man on Wire and Encounters at the End of the World. There was only one documentary last year that was worth becoming emotionally invested in and that was More Than a Game.
It is the story of five kids who were possibly the best high school basketball team of all time. They were kids who found each other by chance with a Salvation Army team who became best friends and decided to go to high school together in a smaller college in Ohio. They won an unprecedented amount of games and became nationally known. One of the players was LeBron James, who you may have heard of.
The movie succeeds for it tries to live up to its title and become more than just winning games. Real emotion comes from wanting these boys to succeed. It’s not because they are necessarily the underdogs, but because there was truly something special with them. The experts of basketball (Sports Illustrated, etc) are critically invested in this team but that means nothing if the audience isn’t. The jaw-dropping moments of the film are the raw footage of their games. Seeing the amazing dunks and the incredible passes sold me in realizing that they were unlike most teams.
The flaws of the movie come from it being too ambitious. There are six men in focus: The “Fab Five” players and their coach, Dru Joyce II. The movie tries to let the audience get to know each of them, but I only felt I understood four of the six. LeBron James was a fascinating subject because he’s perceived as the “Chosen One,” but still seemed like a likable guy who was never full of himself. Dru Joyce III and his father were great character studies as the unlikely basketball star and the passionate coach. Romeo Travis had a bit of coverage, but they never broke through her personal barrier. Unfortunately Sian Cotton and Willie McGee got the short stick because they were only able to be seen as good friends, not individuals.
For a first time documentarian Kristopher Belman does a good job using a lot of techniques to tell a story. Belman often uses still photographs in original, flashy ways. The real gem is all of the footage he was able to find. As alluded to earlier, seeing the footage of their games made me excited to watch basketball, which never happens. The glossy recreations are reminiscent of ESPN documentaries, but that is no way an insult. Belman takes the emotion of those shorts and expands them into a proper big-screen coverage.
There aren’t many bonus features, but they are worth watching. The best of the three featurettes is entitled “More Than a Film,” which is the sort of short that should be on every documentary DVD. Often while I’m watching documentaries, I start to wonder how did the documentarian became part of these stories. More Than a Film” answers the origin stories of the movie and shows how certain coverage was captured. The other two shorts examined the importance of basketball philosophy and highlight the uniqueness of the score of the film.
More Than a Film is one easily worth renting for it is not the “LeBron James Story” and it is not necessarily a tribute to basketball. It is a story that a lot of people can relate to and is a remarkable story worth telling.
Movie: 4 Yaps
Extras: 3 Yaps