Remember The Titans might be considered average as far as how simple, straight forward, and predictable the story is. But as far as the message and the heart of the movie, it's far better than average. The Walt Disney Pictures film might be full of cliches and feel good moments, but the acting is great for the most part and the sports scenes are top notch.
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Denzel Washington's Herman Boone is a football coach brought on to help guide racial division within the TC Williams High School football program. He's chosen mostly because he's thought of as being able to handle the social aspect of coaching a football team that is of new mixed racial backgrounds after being a "white" only school. He has the football pedigree to back it up as well. Will Patton's Bill Yoast was next in line for the head job, so Boone's hiring to outsiders looked like one of appeasement, rather than one of entitlement. Because of the perceived division with the head coaches, the players split up in groups based on their skin color and with Yost on the outs, many of the "white" players decide they will never play for Boone. In order to make sure the kids don't throw their high school careers away, Coach Yoast agrees to stay on as a defensive coordinator and assistant head coach. The first half of the movie deals with how Coach Boone brings the team together through discipline, structure, and the game of football. The apex of the first half is when Coach Boone takes the kids on a early morning run. Their training camp is located at Gettysburg College and Coach Boone has their run finish on the actual battlefield of Gettysburg and tells the players that they are fighting the same battles that were fought many years ago. The kids start to get why it's important that their team and community come before their prejudices. The second half of the film deals with how the kids fight through the obstacles that get in their way and at the same time, try to win football games.
Of course, this film is given the standard Hollywood paint job. When a film is "based" on a true story, it's nearly always the case. Director Boaz Yakin does a pretty good job of keeping the story as close as you can expect and at the same time, making parts of the story more movie-like rather than documentary like. He keeps the story moving and uses two players who are the leaders of both races who become best friends as a way to stand for the solidarity of the team. Wood Harris plays Julius Campbell, the "strong side" defensive end who feels alienated by the team because he doesn't feel that his "white" teammates will watch his back. Ryan Hurst plays Gerry Bertier, the returning team captain and leading defender on what is the strength of their team. Bertier actually learns from Campbell that in order for the team to have a better attitude, it will take his leadership to get them there.
The cast is wacky and though you wouldn't expect any of these guys to actually be in high school still, the actors sell it well. Some of the more noticeable names of the cast of characters include Ryan Gosling (sans the horrible facial hair) as Alan Bosley, a country bumpkin who is a horrible defensive back who gets beat constantly, but understands what team is all about and helps them win in another way. Donald Faison plays Petey, a running back who can't hold on to the football and gets transitioned to the defense after Coach Yoast brings him over. Off the field, Kate Bosworth plays Emma, Gerry's girlfriend who isn't ok with Gerry being friends with the African American ball players. It's a small role and you don't really see any personality in her at all, until the end of the movie. You wouldn't have pegged her for Lois Lane based off of this role. Hayden Panettiere (Heroes) has the cutest role as Coach Yoast's daughter who is a football guru at the age of just nine years old. Much like good children actors, she steals every scene she's in stomping around screaming at refs and double guessing the coaches. She actually calls her father "Coach", and he calls her the same.
The heart of the movie is in Denzel and his approach to not only football, but how he deals with the pressures of being an African American head coach of a racially mixed team. He uses the disrespect he receives as a way to motivate him and his team. It's actually the mild mannered Coach Yoast who utters the "remember the Titans" line in a display of inspired coach speak that comes out of left field. It's actually Coach Boone who has the inspiring lines and you can bet that Denzel Washington watched a few coaches very closely to help him get the lingo down. Denzel is convincing in the role and I could see myself being scared out of my mind, doing push ups until my arms fell off because he said so.
Though the movie ends like you'd expect it to, the sports scenes are well done. In any football movie, you are more than likely going to have some fluke play ending just to make it more dramatic. And while the Titans didn't need late game heroics in real life, they do so in this movie. But don't let that take away from what is a really good story and solidly acted movie.