Written and Directed
by Ward Serrill
Running Time: 1:37
for brief strong language.
The Heart of the Game was, at times, a very entertaining documentary, but one that lacked focus.
The film follows the Roosevelt Roughriders women's high-school basketball team through a seven year period. It starts with the hiring of new coach Bill Resler. Resler has never coached basketball before, but he's got this theory that being in shape and playing tenacious defense will win titles. Every year he uses a different 'theme' to get the girls going, like 'Pack of Wolves' or 'Tropical Storm.' His coaching techniques work wonders and Roosevelt soon becomes a major powerhouse in Seattle basketball. Along the journey a lot of players come and go, some with interesting stories, such as the featured one of Darnellia Russell, who comes from a very different background that the rest of the team and has to struggle with major personal issues.
I guess my biggest problem with The Heart of the Game, and as I think more about it, it's not a huge problem, is that the documentary doesn't seem focused on any one thing. Is it about the coach? Is it about the team? Is it about Darnellia? I think every documentary has one major story in mind, and from the story, we get to see other stories that affect the main one. The secondary stories might shed background light or run parallel but always remains in the background. In The Heart of the Game I couldn't figure out what the main story was about. There wasn't enough focus on any one thing, on any one thread, to keep the entire film together.
That being said, the stories we did see were compelling. The coach was a strange man with his 'Kill! Kill! Kill!' mentality coming out constantly. I can only imagine what random people were thinking every time he yelled at his team to rip out their opponent's throats. The team, for the most part, wasn't the kind of team that would go out and get into trouble every week, so that there was someone getting booted off or getting arrested. It was almost as if Darnellia was a gift from God for the filmmaker when she stepped on to the court. Here was a girl who had the kind of talent that could shoot her to the WNBA, walking on to a court where she was the only black person. Her grades were bad and she had a bad attitude, but all the talent in the world. Had the documentary been able to focus completely on her and her story, it would have been very compelling. But she walked in to the existing story, so there was no story about her before she got to school. So she became part of the overall story of the basketball team, but since she had the biggest 'story' to tell, the filmmaker tried to make her a focal point but really, didn't have a lot to say. There simply wasn't enough drama in her story to make it a major plot point. Yes she had big issues to deal with, but I never felt like I was on the edge of my seat wondering what would happen to her. Basically, I never cared enough about her as a person to get into her life. There was drama though in the overall team. Every year they kept taking 5 steps forward, but one step back. They could never win that elusive state championship, always falling a little short. But as time went on, they got closer and closer until they finally got to the title game, and it happened to be against their arch rivals from their own school district. Now that's the kind of story you only dream of in a documentary.
THE BOTTOM LINE
So overall, I liked The Heart of the Game, but I wish it had been more focused. The story elements that were there were interesting enough, but none of them so compelling that I had to know what was going to happen next. At least until their final run at the championship.
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