Reel NW


Robert Horton Recommends: More Like "Mighty Jerome"

Film critic Robert Horton recommends other movies that mix the themes of race and sports like "Mighty Jerome" does.

Charles Officer's documentary "Mighty Jerome" takes a melancholy survey of the life of Vancouver's thrilling runner, Harry Jerome, a shy man who sprinted his way to status as the "world's fastest human" in the 1960s but struggled with the vagaries of racial prejudice and his own fragile body. It's a great tru-life sports story, given an unexpectedly moody treatment in black and white. The twin themes of race and sports also express themselves in these recommended movies:

Endurance” (1999). When you see the name of Tree of Life director Terence Malick in the credits of a sports docudrama, it's probably a sign that something unusual is afoot. And indeed, this curious movie has a visual sweep—even poetry—not found in most such efforts. It's a lightly dramatized tale of the life of 1996 gold medalist Haile Gebrselassie, with the main roles taken not by actors but by the real people involved. The story of Gebrselassie's Ethiopian upbringing is interesting, but the film really soars by simply watching its main character run, across endless African fields and into Olympic history.

Jim Thorpe – All American” (1951). A Hollywood version of the life of the great Native American athlete (played by Burt Lancaster), this sturdy film presents Thorpe as an outsider who dominated the sports world like nobody before or since. The subject of race is touched on, but even more prominent is the absurdity of stripping Thorpe's Olympic medals because of a flaw in his amateur status.

He Got Game”(1998). It's a basketball movie, but this film is about sports the way “Death of a Salesman” is about business. Denzel Washington plays a convict out to convince his talented son (real-life hoops star Ray Allen, before he played for the Seattle Sonics) to attend a certain college; director Spike Lee curtails his usual heavy hand (except for an overreaching ending) to sketch a culture where race, athletics, and money intersect to create an especially corrupt stew.

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