Genre: Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 44 min.
Release Date: March 23rd, 2007 MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Sunu Gonera Actors: Terrence Howard, Bernie Mac, Kimberly Elise, Tom Arnold, Brandon Fobbs, Regine Nehy, Nate Parker, Scott Reeves, Alphonso McAuley
ride” is an inspirational underdog tale in the same vein as recent endeavors “Invincible” and “Gridiron Gang.” The simple fact that audiences have seen this kind of film before, albeit dealing with a different sport, doesn’t detract significantly from its entertainment value; heartwarming stories like this don’t tire easily. With phenomenal acting and a wonderful screenplay based on the real-life accomplishments of Jim Ellis, “Pride” is a solid production, even if its originality succumbs to formulaic, feel-good ideals.
Jim Ellis (Terence Howard) has ambitions and dreams, but due to the racial discriminations he faces in 1973 in Philadelphia, he’s forced to take a lowly city job cleaning up a nearly abandoned recreational facility. There, he discovers the crotchety janitor Elston (Bernie Mac) and a fully functional swimming pool. When the property is scheduled to be closed up and the basketball hoop outside is removed, the local kids who previously dominated the court accept an offer from Ellis to use the pool. After they realize the value of Ellis’ training and their own potential as a group, they form the city’s first African-American swim team – and must face the hardships of racism and injustice to rise to the top of the sport.
Nearly every performance is unparalleled, with Terrence Howard leading the bunch with a particularly stirring and emotional turn. Working closely with the real Jim Ellis, his portrayal is moving and accurate. Even Bernie Mac, who can best be appreciated in very small doses, fits nicely into the outspoken, comic relief role of Elston. He manages to appropriately mix occasional jests with a spirited character who provides a sort of glue between Ellis and the kids. And, of course, the swimmers themselves are all exceptional and sincere as streetwise youths who slowly realize the importance of achieving their goals and working together. Handpicked by director Sunu Gonera, each actor had to go through boot camp training and had to learn how to swim … not just well, but perfectly. All the performers had to compete at the level of professionals – and during filming, they were pitted against actual pros, who ended up portraying the rival student teams. Gonera was also fortunate enough to get every actor he wanted as his first choice, eliciting enthusiasm and authenticity from everyone.
“Pride” is a shining example of an inspirational biopic, utilizing uplifting themes to generate wide appeal. Nearly everything depicted in the film is based on events that actually happened to Ellis – from the drug-dealing pimp (played by Gary Sturgis) to the grooming of the first girl trying to break into the sport (Regine Nehy as Willie) – which aids in the realism and lasting power. Two of the young actors on the team were cast even though they couldn’t swim, but after extensive training, the group acts on the set as they did in real life. A huge undertaking for first-time director Gonera, he’s been preparing for this opportunity all of his life – from directing commercials to acting to making a Cannes Official Selection short film.
Has this type of project been done before? With films like “Coach Carter” and “Remember the Titans” among many others all in recent memory, the answer is a definite yes. But even if the story is essentially the same, with a few alterations for the personas and a different sport at the center, these kinds of ventures haven’t lost any of their luster, continually inducing excitement and inspiration. And as long as they are made with the same level of passion and personal involvement that directors like Sunu Gonera exhibit, they will continue to seduce audiences worldwide.
– Mike Massie