Some sports movies work even if you don’t like the sport. You don’t have to be a boxing fan to like Rocky, and you certainly don’t have to like basketball to love “Hoosiers.”
“Hoosiers” is a sport movie that really isn’t about sports, or even about basketball specifically. The same type of movie could’ve been about baseball, hockey, football or soccer.
That’s not to say that the game footage isn’t riveting, because it is. It’s good enough to make you into a basketball fan at least for a moment. Director David Anspaugh went on to direct “Rudy” and “The Game of Their Lives” and he has a knack for sports without doubt.
This is small town sociology, in much the same way “Footloose” was, but not as clichéd. There are from-heres and come-heres. There’s a way to do things, and changing them is a good way to get yourself ostracized.
Hackman’s city slicker isn’t entirely out of place. He smartly doesn’t make the contrast that obvious a clash. He actually looks and acts for the most part like he’d fit in just fine. He chooses some particular ways to show he’s different. He’s more driven. He’s more impatient. But he’s as dedicated to his fundamentals as anyone in town. He doesn’t seek anyone else’s approval, and neither do they.
It actually makes for better drama that Hackman’s character is more of a flip side of the same coin.
Stories about production say that Hackman thought the film would bomb and had no confidence in it until he saw the first cut, when he was amazed how good it was.
He had reasons for caution.
Barbara Hershey is basically wasted in her role. She protects the “star player” and is pretty rude. The star player renders her irrelevant and once her conflicts subside, she is basically discarded.
So why do I think this film deserves another take?
His only acting Academy Award nomination (losing to Michael Caine is one of those Oscar do-overs I wish they could do) was for his work in this film, and he is brilliant. His character arc is believable and his subplot with his son helps the movie progress. In fact, we are convinced that he loves basketball more than the coach or any of the players or townspeople.
Of course, Hopper doesn’t agree, thinking that “Hoosiers” wasn’t even his best work of the year.
I think he’s wrong. He was stone cold sober when this movie was made, but plays drunk better than anyone. His love for basketball is evident in every moment. And his commitment to recovery is well played. From his dialect to his body language, Hopper carries much of the movie. He is the heart and soul of it.
Many love “Hoosiers” in a “Rocky” sort of way, but give it another take for Hopper’s sake.
Hopper’s character stops by Coach’s house for some unsolicited advice on an upcoming game. When Hackman got advice from the townspeople, he headed straight for the door, but Hopper’s advice is accepted and eventually sought. It establishes Hopper’s character as the one to watch, and the two play off each other nicely.