With only one major star (Denzel Washington), an appealing cast of fresh unknowns, and a winning emphasis of substance over self-indulgent style, Boaz Yakin's Remember the Titans
is, like Rudy
before it, a football movie that will be fondly remembered by anyone who sees it.
Set in Alexandria, Virginia, in 1971, the fact-based story begins with the integration of black and white students at T. C. Williams High School. This effort to improve race relations is most keenly felt on the school's football team, the Titans, and bigoted tempers flare when a black head coach (Washington) is appointed and his victorious predecessor (Will Patton) reluctantly stays on as his assistant. It's affirmative action at its most potentially volatile, complicated by the mandate that the coach will be fired if he loses a single game in the Titans' 13-game season. The players represent a hotbed of racial tension, but as the team struggles toward unity and gridiron glory, Remember the Titans builds on several subplots and character dynamics to become an inspirational drama of Rocky-like proportions.
Yakin--whose debut, Fresh, was one of the best independent films of the 1990s--understands the value of connecting small scenes to form a rich climactic payoff. Likewise, Washington provides a solid dramatic foundation (his coach is obsessively harsh, but for all the right reasons) while giving his younger co-stars ample time in the spotlight. The result is a film that achieves what it celebrates: an enriching sense of unity that's unquestionably genuine. (Ages 9 and older) --Jeff Shannon