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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 6.67%
Average: 3.33%
Pretty Bad: 3.33%
Total Crap: 3.33%

3 reviews, 12 user ratings

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Hoop Dreams
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by MP Bartley

"I don't care for basketball. I love this movie."
5 stars

If you told me that I was about to watch a three-hour documentary on basketball, my first reaction would be to start snoring. I don't mind watching the occasional match, but when it comes to the leagues, the technicalities and the ins and outs of the sport, I'm clueless. Director Steve James however, knows that all truly great sports movies aren't about sports at all. They're about life.

'Hoop Dreams' follows a near 6-year path with two would-be great basketball players - 14 year olds Arthur Agee and William Gates. They certainly have the potential to be greats, but like so many walks of life, all they need are the breaks. And the breaks are going to be pretty hard to come by for William and Arthur.

They're far from rich kids, growing up in ghettos where the basketball courts are also used as hang-outs for the local drug dealers. The money to pay for college fees is a constant problem and entry into a college depends on getting the right grades in all the wrong subjects. When a kids life and dreams are devoted to basketball, how can you expect them to apply themselves to something as dull as algebra? And these kids also don't have the most stable of family units with disappearing father figures and impending fatherhood for themselves. Amongst all this is the small matter of some basketball tournaments to be won.

So 'Hoop Dreams' isn't some puff-promotional piece about the season of one particular team. It's canvas is broad and deep, drawing in many different characters in William's and Arthur's lives - girlfriends, mothers, brothers who nearly made it as a pro, absent fathers, daughters, teachers, tough coaches, errant friends tempting them onto the wrong tracks, heroes, villains - to create overlapping story strands to ensure this is a documentary that will appeal to many people, besides sports fans. Any fictional sports movie would struggle to have such a wide scope as 'Hoop Dreams' does, but then again that's probably a perfect illustration of the difference between life and the life that movies portray.

James presents this documentary with a touching honesty. There may be no 'happy ending' as a typical sports movie would have - no last minute winners or heroes carried aloft - but very few movies have the kind of optimistic uplift that 'Hoop Dreams' has. It's perhaps not a question of one, big, final match to win but a question of winning the smaller, more vital ones along the way. Graduation ceremonies, the passing of tests and family bonding have never been celebrated so much. Every little victory for these kids and their families here is intensified by how much they've invested in getting to the end of their journey.

Equally however, James doesn't shy away from the downfalls and the losses in these lives. There may not be the stereotypical happy ending, but then again what good is a victory without having some hard losses to avenge? These are the kind of questions the film poses. Arthur and William also have the benefit of being damn nice kids to follow. There's no arrogance or truculence about them, just the hope that everyone has at some point that their dreams will come true, and it's this quality that means you root for them so much, regardless of whether you like basketball or not. If you've wanted to be a golf player, a footballer, a singer or a rocket scientist, it doesn't matter - Arthur and William epitomise everyones dreams.

Crucially then, you rejoice for them when they achieve something and feel for them when they miss out on something. We can all sympathise with William who is frustrated at his lack of progress in the subjects he really doesn't care about, but is told he has to care about. And we share Arthur's pain at the deteoriation of his family life.

Technically speaking, there's nothing fancy about 'Hoop Dreams', simply a blending of interviews and footage with a minimum of voice-over. It's edited and paced superbly however, never becoming too dry by interspersing the people moments with highlights of the vital games. And even for basketball virgins the importance of these games is always underlined so you know what's just at stake. Any fan of any sport will be cheering on William and Arthur by the end. And combined with the personal developments good and bad (one experiences the joys of fatherhood, one works out his anger at the lack of fatherhood guidance with a one-on-one that becomes very personal at the end - both highly funny and distressing), 'Hoop Dreams' has an epic feel and an emotional punch that is all too rare in fictional works - sports movies or not.

My initial suspicion before watching 'Hoop Dreams' was lost within the first fifteen minutes or so, when I realised I was watching something a lot more intelligent, a lot more personal and a lot more special than the premise offered. Does it need a three-hour running time and does it repeat itself? Some points are needlessly repeated, but how on earth could you fit the drama, the highs and lows of a difficult three 6 years into a cosy 2 hours? 'Hoop Dreams' may not answer the technical questions any basketball novice may be asking during the movie, but that's not the point. 'Hoop Dreams' has much more important questions about life, hopes and success to ask and the fact that it gets someway to answering them is a monumental achievement and a fat two fingers to some of Hollywood's more self-important pieces of work. Grand stuff on an epic scale, non-sports fans need apply right now.

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originally posted: 07/13/04 00:43:07
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User Comments

4/13/15 jokerass lol 1 stars
2/20/15 Chris Jarmick Once groundbreaking utterly engrossing doc. 4.5 4 stars
2/03/11 Ted This is one of the best reviews I've read on the film. 5 stars
5/23/10 AJ Muller Fantastic film. Utterly captivating. "Overpraised"? Get over yourself. 5 stars
1/27/09 Shaun Wallner Wonderful story. 5 stars
10/13/05 K. Sear Very overrated. Mildly engaging for brief periods but overall is just tedious. 3 stars
7/11/05 Brian Feiler One of the finest documentaries ever made. 5 stars
10/20/04 maria montero exelent 5 stars
8/20/04 Nietzcshe Pettway I LOVED IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
11/19/03 malcolm at the end, i really felt like i grew up with those guys 5 stars
3/03/03 Jack Sommersby Overpraised documentary overstates the obvious. Good pacing, tough. 2 stars
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  14-Oct-1994 (PG-13)
  DVD: 10-May-2005


  05-Sep-1996 (M)

Directed by
  Steve James

Written by
  Steve James
  Frederick Marx

  William Gates
  Arthur Agee

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