The Express (2009)
Directed by: Gary Fleder
Screenplay: Charles Leavitt, Robert Gallagher
Principles: Rob Brown, Dennis Quaid, Clancy Brown, Darrin DeWitt Henson, Omar Benson Miller
Running Time: 130 minutes
MPAA Rating: “PG”
The Express: The Ernie Davis Story (2008), opens with the following narration: "Twenty-one lines, five yards apart-that's a football game. But there are other lines that run deeper, and wider, that aren't part of any game." As a Black American male who grew up in the seventies, partly in the North, partly in the South of this nation, I know all too well the meaning of the subtext.
But my experiences as traumatic and life-altering as they were to me, were nothing, nothing compared to those of Black American men and women who scarified much in the decade leading up to the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. And their courage helped fill in the deep racial divide that so used to stain—and still stains—this nation in rutty ugliness. They did it by achieving when and where they weren’t supposed to, showing the nation and the world that Black Americans were—and are—every bit the equal of White’s and, in some cases, better! Such is the case with Ernie Davis and The Express is his tale.
Directed by (Gary Fleder ~ October Road), The Express opens on an all too familiar scene: two Black American boys (cousins) are confronted by a gaggle of White’s demanding the spoils of their labor: collecting glass bottles for the deposits. One boy hops a train to escape, the other (Ernie Davis ~ Justin Martin) eludes the boys with a combination of slick moves and lightning speed.
Flash forward: Ernie Davis (Rob Brown ~ Stop Loss, Treme), nicknamed the "The Elmira Express,” is an all-star running back for his Elmira, NY high school and is being recruited by Syracuse University coach Ben Schwartzwalder (Dennis Quaid ~ The Parent Trap, Flight of the Phoenix, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra) and Jim Brown (Darrin Dewitt Henson ~ Soul Food, Stomp The Yard, Lincoln Heights) to play for the Syracuse Orangeman; he accepts.
Thus begins an odyssey that will eventually see Ernie Davis win the famed Heisman Trophy in 1961.
The Express: The Ernie Davis Story is an inspiration, how could it not be taking place as it did just as the American Civil Rights movement was kicking into high gear, and Ernie Davis was one of the faces of a young Black America hungry for change. Racial equality, true justice and equivalency were the touchstones of the movement and Ernie Davis was one of the symbols Black Americans were proud to point to as a representation of the race as a whole.
Well-acted and directed, The Express: The Ernie Davis Story at times made me smile, made me angry, made me proud and made me shed a tear. Like I said the movie is inspirational and moving. Lead Rob Brown turned in an outstanding performance and showcases the all too under-utilized talent Black American actors bring to theatrical table. Two thumbs up to the Denis Quaid as well for a masterful depiction of a typical college football coach.
Here are some thing you do not know about Ernie Davis; I know I did know them before watching this movie: he was a two-time first-team All-America running back at Syracuse University; he led his team to an undefeated season and a national championship, the first for Syracuse University; most importantly, he, Ernie Davis, was the first black man to earn college football's most coveted award, the oft-revered Heisman Trophy.
These are the fact young American children, black or white, red, or brown, do not learn about in school, not even at the college level unless you attend a Black College or University, or take an African American studies class. If you are a Black American child you are taught that your ancestors used to be slaves and little else; good luck trying to find achievements by Black Americans in a Texas state history book! It takes movies like The Express, Rosewood (1997), Separate But Equal (1991), Roots (1977) and others to tell the unvarnished history of Black achievement in America.
Not that The Express did not take license with the truth; e.g. the team get together at the local rib joint after the Cotton Bowl purportedly never took place. And the movie was over-dramatic at times. But overall The Express succeeds at both educating and inspiring and that is never a bed thing!
Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Good for a Rainy Day
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older
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