DVD Review: The Express (Blu-ray)

The Express
Blu-ray Edition
Directed by Gary Fleder
Starring Dennis Quaid, Rob Brown, Charles S. Dutton
Universal Home Entertainment
Release date: January 20, 2009

The Express, now out on Blu ray DVD, is an emotional sports movie in the vein of Miracle and Brian’s Song. The film, based on the book by Robert Gallagher, tells the story of Ernie Davis, the first ever black football player to win the Heisman Trophy. Chronicling his life from his humble beginnings growing up in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, to his amazing college football career at Syracuse University, Ernie seemed destined to follow the footsteps of his mentor, football great Jim Brown but life had another game plan. In the very same year that he was drafted into the NFL, Davis died of Leukemia at the young age of 23.

Written by Charles Leavitt, the movie gets your adrenaline pumping but also tugs at your heart strings. The football scenes are pretty dynamic and are very entertaining to watch. Under the direction of Gary Fleder, the football scenes were fast paced, packed a punch, and were not overtly stylized like a lot of the newer sports movies. You feel every tackle and every touchdown. While the football scenes were fun, it was the quieter moments of the film that drew me in. Rob Brown plays Ernie Davis with a quiet confidence that many felt was the calling card of Davis. Brown is far from perfect as the lead but he shows real promise as a future leading man. He more than holds his own when sharing the screen with Dennis Quaid, who puts on a great performance as Syracuse coach Ben Schwartzwalder. Both actors play off the father-son dynamic rather well.

Though the movie is engrossing, it is flawed in its design. The movie runs a bit long. Rather than end the movie on a high note with the big game between Syracuse and their rival West Virginia, the movie chooses to go another half an hour to go over Davis’ bout with Leukemia. While it is important, I couldn’t help but feel that the additional half hour could have been trimmed down.

Also, though the film is based on a true story, the writer makes use of his artistic license. For one thing, the final football game, complete with racially intolerant fans and players in West Virginia, was inaccurate. There were no racial incidents during the game and in fact, the game was not even played in West Virginia. The game was actually played in Syracuse. Despite this, the movie is still worth watching if you are a fan of football, sports movies, or just in the mood to see an inspirational story.

The extras on the Blu ray DVD is similar to that of the regular DVD. There is a making of featurette on the film, The life of Ernie Davis through the eyes of his family and teammates, and a few deleted scenes. As a blur-ray exclusive, the surviving members of the Syracuse team reflect on the historic Syracuse Cotton Bowl game featured in the movie in a special featurette.
In the end, The Express might not make it to the Pro Bowl of sports movies but with fine acting and an overall entertaining story, it has more than enough moves to make it onto the highlight reel.

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