THE HEART OF THE GAME directed and written by Ward Serrill, with Bill Resler, Darnellia Russell and Devon Crosby Helms. 102 minutes. A Miramax/Odeon Films release. Opens Friday (June 23). For venues and times, see Movies, page 107. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
The heart of the game will inevitably evoke comparisons to Hoop Dreams. Filmmaker Ward Serrill spent several years following the fortunes of the Roosevelt Roughriders, a Seattle high school girls' basketball team.
Where Steve James and the Hoop Dreams crew were more interested in the sociology of sports in the African-American community, The Heart Of The Game starts out as a coach movie. Serrill is fascinated by Bill Resler, a Seattle tax professor who takes on a mediocre team to test some theories about the game, like not having a formally designed offense. His idea is, "If we don't know what we're going to do, the other team certainly won't."
Sociologically, watching a group of high school girls being transformed into sports warriors is the most interesting thing about The Heart Of The Game. Resler's motivational rhetoric is unabashedly aggressive. One season the team chant is "Draw blood," which is no sillier than any other team motivational chant, but at the same time is startling to hear from girls wearing braces.
A second story takes over in the back half of the film, when middle-school phenom Darnellia Russell arrives at Roosevelt and immediately gets into a war of wills with her coach. Then other issues develop that, when they seem about to force her to give up playing in her senior year, wind up in court. This section saves the film from being just a coach movie.
The Heart Of The Game is rawly shot in a variety of video stocks. I suspect much of the more intimate footage comes from home movies, and it must have been a nightmare to rectify the various formats for a 35mm print.
This remains the principal barrier for contemporary documentarians: it takes money to shoot film and to manage a good 35mm blow-up from video, and most documentarians don't have much money.
The Heart Of The Game is a strong film about engaging characters, but it's tough to strongly recommend something that looks this grainy on the big screen .