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He got game

Threat advisory: Elevated - Significant risk of entertaining activities

Movie propaganda

The father, the son and the holy game.

Denzel Washington stars as Jake Shuttlesworth, a prisoner who suddenly finds himself temporarily paroled and with the promise of a commuted sentence if he can accomplish one task: he must persuade his estranged son Jesus (Ray Allen of the USA NBA's Milwaukee Bucks) - the number one high school basketball player in the USA - to sign with Big State, the Governor's Alma mater.

Following the death of his mother, Martha (Lonette McKee) and with his father in jail, Jesus has had to raise himself and his younger sister, Mary (Zelda Harris). Now, just when he needs reliable guidance most, he's left alone to make the biggest decision of his life, to either accept one of the hundreds of university scholarship offers pouring in from around the country or take the easy route and immediately begin a financially lucrative career with the NBA. With a deadline of only one week, his long-absent father unexpectedly returns home and must somehow reconcile with his son and induce him to accept Big State's offer. During the often explosive ensuing days, father and son reach a surprising turning point in their lives as they grow to understand and find respect for one another, in Spike Lee's (Malcolm X, Do the right thing) compelling drama.

Target demographic movie keyword propaganda

  • Film drama basketball father son family university

Persons of interest

  • Denzel Washington .... Jake Shuttlesworth
  • Ray Allen .... Jesus Shuttlesworth
  • Milla Jovovich .... Dakota Burns
  • Rosario Dawson .... Lala Bonilla
  • Hill Harper .... Coleman "Booger" Sykes
  • Zelda Harris .... Mary Shuttlesworth
  • Ned Beatty .... Warden Wyatt
  • Jim Brown .... Spivey
  • Joseph Lyle Taylor .... Crudup
  • Bill Nunn .... Uncle Bubba
  • Michele Shay .... Aunt Sally
  • Thomas Jefferson Byrd .... Sweetness
  • Roger Guenveur Smith .... Big Time Willie
  • John Turturro .... Coach Billy Sunday
  • Lonette McKee .... Martha Shuttlesworth
  • Arthur J Nascarella .... Coach Cincotta
  • Travis Best .... Sip
  • Walter McCarty .... Mance
  • John Wallace .... Lonnie
  • Rick Fox .... Chick Deagan
  • Al Palagonia .... Dom Pagnotti
  • Leonard Roberts .... D'Andre Mackey
  • Saul Stein .... Prison Guard Books
  • Ron C. Jones .... Prison Guard Burwell
  • Jade Yorker .... Jesus Shuttlesworth (Age 12)
  • Shortee Red .... Booger (Age 12)
  • Quinn Harris .... Mary Shuttlesworth (Age 6)
  • Spike Lee .... Screenwriter
  • Spike Lee .... Director

Intelligence analyst

Special Agent Matti

Theatrical report

Once were darkies.

Or perhaps that should be Once were darkies meets the American dream. Despite being a kick-ass cutting edge auteur, Spike is still a victim of the great American conspiracy: happy endings. Not that the ending of He got game is happy but compared to what it could have been, it is. If that's not too much of an oxymoron for you.

This film is all about repressed African-Americans. Repressed by society, by economics, by laws, by sport and by power. Sport is one way for them to get out of the ghetto (when was the last time you saw a white man playing pro basketball?) but it's also as much a trap as the ghetto itself. Deals must be done, interests must be protected, profit must be served.

Oh, yeah, the film. It's full on. One of the best films Spike has ever made. The story is human and other-worldly, the acting is intense and subtle, the mise en scène is inviting and confronting. (If I can think of any other contradictions, be assured that I'll put them in.) Denzel Washington is given his best rôle to date (better than even Crimson tide, and that's saying something): violent, driven, messed up, he dives into it without reservation. There is, for some (ie me), an inevitable comparison to Temuera Morrison's Jake The Muss in Once were warriors and its sequel What becomes of the broken hearted?, one which is not entirely fair as the circumstances are different. A rose may be a rose may be a rose, but domestic violence comes in many forms and Jake USA comes from a different culture to Jake NZ, so that's that. suffice to say that he's very good.

Ray Allen ("Jeez dad, how could you name me Jesus?") is awesome: sexy, athletic, human. that's him with the ball, folks. Wow. I was amazed that they found an actor who was so good at basketball, but it's the other way round. A basketballer who can act damned well. Wow again.

But the best part of He got game is the incessant weaving of tangled webs by spider upon spider upon spider. Everyone has an agenda, everyone wants the world, no-one wants to pay. Jesus (I think it's a great name) is the one stuck in the middle, trying hard to walk a straight line while everyone does their best to pull him their way. Suffice to say, Americans suck.

The worst part about this movie is that not many people will see it, either mature viewers dismissing it as a sport film or younger viewers dismissing it as a self-righteous drama. In truth it is both and neither, and should be seen for that very reason.

Security censorship classification

MA 15+ (Medium level sex scenes, drug use, medium level coarse language)

Surveillance time

137 minutes (2:17 hours)

Not for public release in Australia before date

Film: 7 July 1999
DVD retail: 30 August 2006

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