He Got Game (1998)

(On DVD, October 2016) Denzel Washington and Spike Lee are a good match, and He Got Game is a great use of their combined talents. Washington is spectacular as the convict asked to convince his estranged basketball-prodigy son to sign up for a particular college. His usual mixture of swagger, danger, charm and grumpiness work well here, and I’m hardly the first critic to note the comforting blend of traditional traits that make up his persona’s masculinity. But even his character’s power as a man quickly reaches its limits when his estranged son rebuffs him, and how his example has to rival with the trappings of fame, sex and money. He may not even be the main character in the story, given how much of the film slowly slides over to his son’s character and the choice he has to make as the film progresses. Lee’s impressionistic directing flourishes work well in this context, and add a depth of complexity to the characters’ inner struggles. Good supporting performances by Ray Allen (an athlete playing the son), Rosario Dawson and Milla Jovovich also help, as does a good sense of street-level New York. It wraps up in a good conclusion, and leaves viewers satisfied—although finding out what happened to those character five, ten years later would be interesting.

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