Movie Review for The Express (2008)

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Review #700 of 365
Movie Review of The Express (2008) [PG] 129 minutes
WIP™ Scale: $13.50
Where Viewed: United Artists Colorado Mills Stadium 16 & Giant Screen, Lakewood, CO
When Seen: 4 October 2008 @ 7:00 pm
DVD Release Date: Unscheduled (please check back)
Unsung Crew Member: Storyboard Artist – Marc Baird

Soundtrack: Download now from Mark Isham - The Express (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) - or - order the CD below

Directed by: Gary Fleder (Runaway Jury)
Written By: Charles Leavitt (Blood Diamond) based on book Ernie Davis: The Elmira Express, the Story of a Heisman Trophy Winner by Robert Gallagher

Featured Cast (Where You Might Remember Him/Her From):
Rob Brown (Stop-Loss) • Dennis Quaid (American Dreamz) • Darrin Dewitt Henson (A Good Man Is Hard to Find) • Omar Benson Miller (Miracle at St. Anna) • Nelsan Ellis ("The Inside") • Charles S. Dutton (Honeydripper) • Justin Martin (A Raisin in the Sun) • Justin Jones (debut) • Nicole Behaire (debut) • Aunjanue Ellis ("Justice") • Elizabeth Shivers (Soap and Roses) • Geoff Stults ("7th Heaven") • Saul Rubinek (War) • Chadwick Boseman (LadyLike)

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No matter how many sports teams and players rise to fame movies I see, I never get tired of them. At the base, they represent the core values of the American Dream, that anybody of any background, can rise to greatness at the top of their field as long as they exhibit the raw courage and determination necessary. And thus is the case of the first Black American to win the Heisman Trophy, Ernie Davis aka The Elmira Express. The film is based on Robert Gallagher's book entitled, Ernie Davis: The Elmira Express, the Story of a Heisman Trophy Winner which gets shortened considerably for the movie called simply "The Express". Staring the wonderful talents of Rob Brown as Ernie Davis, Dennis Quaid as his Syracuse University football coach, Ben Schwartzwalder, Omar Benson Miller as his best friend in college, Jack 'J.B.' Buckley, Charles S. Dutton as Ernie's grandfather Willie 'Pops' Davis, Darrin Dewitt Henson as the legendary Jim Brown, and the hilarious Saul Rubinek as Art Modell (owner of the Cleveland Browns).

The biographical film directed by Gary Fleder from a screenplay by Charles Leavitt, traces the life of Ernie Davis from a little kid (Justin Martin) all the way through his first suit-up for the Cleveland Browns. If you know his story already, then you know is story. If you don't be prepared for the unexpected because this story does not really have a happy ending. Ernie's 'career' in football, according to the film begins in the days when he and his sidekick, Will Davis (Justin Jones) learn to evade the kids in town who would rob them of their bottle collections on the way to the bottle deposit collection site. Just before he would start pee-wee football, Ernie's mother returns to collect him from her parents and relocate him to Elmira a few hours away. Next, we see Ernie running up the scoreboard in high school ball where he catches the eye of numerous college football programs notably Notre Dame and Syracuse. The head coach of Syracuse, who's just built up the legendary Jim Brown, asks Jim to help him convince Ernie to follow in his footsteps. Jim agrees, and Ernie follows. Pretty soon, Ernie is a freshman on the development squad moving up to the practice squad that plays with the varsity, but doesn't travel with the team or play in games. The coach wants to use him to better the team and make him more prepared to slip right in during his sophomore year. This action immediately irritates Quarterback, Bob Lundy (Geoff Stults), who hazes him and treats Ernie pretty badly. When the next season rolls around, however, Ernie takes off as planned and starts helping the team win, and win big. Nobody can stop him if he gets past the secondary, and he can barely be stopped when facing the secondary. He is not only a phenomenon to behold on the field, but he's an eloquent and very nice guy off the field despite the fact that he stuttered as a kid. His life as a college football player takes on new meaning, however, as his team plays across the Mason-Dixon line and the people of the 1960s are confronted head on with the premiere of Black athletes into sports they had not previously been integrated. Therefore, he becomes both a sports figure and to a lesser but nonetheless important political figure. Particularly because he was such a genuinely nice guy and excellent sportsman, he was mostly very well received. The film does, however, delve into the racism he, his coach, and teammates experience, he for being Black and they for associating with him. Eventually, thankfully, the racists are silenced by his excellence on the field despite the boundaries and societal roadblocks assembled against his success.

The Express, is an emotionally charged film that forces contemplation and self-reflection. Moreover, the greatness of Ernie Davis the player and the tragic climax of his career make for a startling yet entirely satisfying film. Those unfamiliar with his lifestory are in for a sad shock. The principle, aforementione actors do justice to every character delivering layered performances that atypically show the football players and their coaches as 3-dimensional people with emotional vulnerabilities. Dennis Quaid delivers his best performance in years—one that illustrates his versatility as well as his candor. The role is made for him.

… sports-themed film fans will enjoy this classic story …
Relative newcomer, Rob Brown, however, is the star of the film endowing his character of Ernie with a classic grin and ebullient personality. He's the makes the character one that everybody would want to have as a best friend. Of course, Omar Benson Miller, takes an easy character here, but adds another feather to his cap in a résumé that's increasing diverse and introspective. Most fans of sports-themed film fans will enjoy this classic story, but due to the nature of the life of Ernie Davis, hopefully even more people will be drawn in. The Express is not a complicated film on the surface, but there's a lot more going on underneath than first meets the eye. Take the time to see the film and enjoy the excellent life lessons as well as the inspirational story of Ernie Davis.

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Other Projects Featuring The Express (2008)
Cast Members
Rob BrownDennis QuaidDarrin Dewitt Henson
Omar Benson MillerNelsan EllisCharles S. Dutton
Justin MartinJustin JonesNicole Behaire
Aunjanue EllisChadwick BosemanGeoff Stults
Gary Fleder
Charles Leavitt

Review-lite The Express (2008) [max of 150 words]
Fans of sports-themed films will enjoy this film, but so should people who just love an emotional drama with a tragic ending, but focused on the life of an extraordinary individual. The life of Ernie Davis aka The Elmira Express serves as the focal story of the film that crosses usual boundaries dealing with racism and family as well. But, it's the performances of Dennis Quaid as Ernie's college coach, Ben Schwartzwalder, and Ernie Davis (Rob Brown) that really make this film despite the tragic ending.

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