The Heart Of The Game

on June 09, 2006 by Tim Cogshell
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"The Heart of the Game" is a sports documentary that might be favorably compared to "Hoop Dreams," the riveting 1995 basketball documentary in which filmmakers followed two young inner-city basketball players for five years as they pursued what were actually the dreams of an extended family that included parents, siblings, friends and a entire impoverished community. Here, filmmaker Ward Serrill follows a high school basketball team for nearly seven years with equal dramatic effect, though toward a different end. The Roosevelt High School Roughriders is a girls' basketball team, and the dreams they have are different from those of young boys whose skills may raise their families out of poverty.

At the time Serill began "The Heart of the Game," the WNBA was only three years old, and its survival was uncertain. Told principally from the point of view of Bill Resler, a college tax law professor who coaches the Roughriders on the side, Serrill's "Heart of the Game" finds its titular concept in the players and in the sport itself, and it's a breathtaking ride.

The Roughriders are a team of middle-class girls from a Seattle suburb who, under Resler's unique guidance (he's very existential) and coaching techniques -- which include lots of metaphors about pack animals -- achieve amazing things that change their lives forever. When a young, sassy16-year-old prodigy from the inner-city joins the team, things become even more engaging. Among the events that drive the drama in "The Heart of the Game" are a number of personality conflicts, class conflicts, poverty, pregnancy, several crises of faith, intrusions by basketball parasites and a court battle -- the outcome of which will change a girl's life in ways even she could not imagine.

The filmmaking in "The Heart of the Game" isn't particularly tight, nor is the style arresting, but the story of these girls, their coach and their aspirations is. Unlike "Hoop Dreams," a film whose end leaves one somewhat ambivalent about this sport and its role in the lives of young boys, you'll be smiling and happy as you leave the "The Heart of the Game," with a newfound respect for girls' basketball and those who play it. Narrated by Chris "Ludacris" Bridges. Directed and written by Ward Serrill. Produced by Ward Serrill and Liz Manne. A Miramax release. Documentary. Rated PG-13 for brief strong language. Running time: 97 min

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