Tuesday, 20 July 2010

He Got Game

I decided on a night in with a film last night, as I was knackered from being in work all day. I’ve got a stack of borrowed DVDs I’m meant to wading through as well as The Wire Season 1. However, I decided to settle and watch my recent purchase – Spike Lee’s He Got Game. I first watched the film on Sky Movies a few years back and absolutely loved it. At the time I couldn’t find it anywhere in the UK on DVD and could only find American versions that wouldn’t play in my DVD player. When I stumbled across it on Amazon a few weeks ago I knew I had to have it. And last night I settled in to watch it.

He Got Game is a sports film a difference. Denzel Washington plays Jake Shuttlesworth – an inmate at Attica Prison, New York state. His son Jesus Shuttlesworth, played by basketball pro Ray Allen, is basketball’s number one high school prospect and everyone is talking about him. Jake is offered the chance to cut short his sentence by convincing his son to enrol at Big State – the Governor’s University. Jake is tagged and watched by two parole officers as he is given one week to return to Coney Island, Brooklyn and get Jesus to sign a letter of intent for Big State.

Jesus doesn’t welcome the return of his Father and refuses to acknowledge him, let alone forgive him for the reason he is doing time – accidentally killing Jesus’ Mother. Jake bides him time and hopes that his son will come around. Jesus is finding ‘the most important decision of his life’ becoming more difficult as everyone tries to get a piece of him. His basketball coach offers him cash for information, his girlfriend tries to get him to sign with an agent who can get him straight into the NBA and his Uncle demands money from any deal that takes place. It seems everyone has an opinion on what Jesus should do including the little sister he is raising himself, Mary.

As Jake gradually gets more and more time to talk to Jesus we see the barriers between them slowly erode, but never completely removed. In a series of flashbacks we also see how Jake pushed Jesus hard on the courts from a young age. Jake’s tough love parenting is evidently what has made Jesus the player is, but it is also the reason they are so distant. Jake’s continual pushing also led to the argument that saw him push Jesus’ Mother and her hit her head.

In one moment between the Father and son Jake tells Jesus that he wasn’t named after Jesus of the bible, but after basketball player Earl Monroe. Monroe was Jake’s favourite player of all time and they called him Jesus – because he was the truth. Jake tells Jesus how Monroe lit up the courts of North Philledalphia then the NBA before the Knicks ‘put the shackles on him’. The barriers between the two of them break down and Jake reveals his true motive and reason for being out of prison. It isn’t receive well and Jesus thinks his Father is just as bad as everyone else. Jake reminds him that everyone else isn’t his Father. As Jake hugs Jesus before he leaves Jesus shows no emotion.

As Jesus heads out of town to be courted by Tech University he sees what is on offer for a big time basketball player at these colleges – women, notoriety and even more women. The entire college loves him and his head spins as he ways up his options. Jake pushes Jesus’ girlfriend for information on what her motives are, tries to scare Jesus’ cousin Boogers into finding out where Jesus has gone and assures his parole officers that he can get the job done. However, it’s clear Jake feels things are slipping away from him.

Jake finally catches up with Jesus in the courts outside of his building and it’s his final throw of the dice. Jake offers to play Jesus and if he beats him Jesus must promise to sign the letter. Jesus is clearly the better player and although Jake gives it his all he loses. Jesus throws the letter to the floor and Jake asks him if it makes him feel a man. Jake then leaves Jesus with one last piece of advice – Jesus should look after himself and his sister and not to worry about him. He insists he needs to get the hatred out of his heart or otherwise he’s going to end up ‘just another nigger’ – like his Father.

The day to decide comes and the press gather in the school gym to find out Jesus’ intentions. A note is read on his behalf stating that he shall be enrolling at Big State University and that his family pray for his Father’s release. Jake’s release isn’t awarded to him on the technicality that he didn’t get his son to sign, but Jake is pretty accepting of this. In a letter to Jesus Jake lays his feelings out and states that he has found a pair of shoes that fit him, even though they hurt like hell.

He Got Game is an amazing story of forgiveness set against a stunning basketball background. The beauty of the game is elegant and the entire film feels like a one on one match between Jake and Jesus. Each of them playing against the other in an emotional battle. However much Jesus tries to be his own man it is clear he is his Father’s son for better and worse. The struggle between Jake and Jesus, as well as their own individual battles with themselves, is beautifully told and accompanied by a phenomenal Public Enemy soundtrack. Spike Lee’s direction is a fantastic way of telling a story with flashbacks, images intercut with exposition and the use of juxtaposition to show their similarities and differences between his tow main characters.
He Got Game is one of my favourite films and an amazing example of how a sports film can be different and break the normal formula so evident in almost every other sports film. This film has definitely got game.

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