Drama based on the life of college football hero Ernie Davis, the first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy. Rob Brown plays Davis, who rose from a poverty-stricken childhood to play for college team the Syracuse Orangemen. Under the tutelage of hard-nosed coach Ben Schwartzwalder (Dennis Quaid), he became not only a star player but also an icon for the burgeoning civil rights movement in the early 1960s. But when tragedy struck the athlete down in his prime, his dreams of taking to the professional field were dashed forever.
Based on the real-life story of college football hero Ernie Davis, The Express
will remind some moviegoers of the heart-tugging Brian's Song
. Ernie Davis was a star athlete at Syracuse University and the first African American to win the Heisman Trophy. Unlike other winners of that era, he wasn't allowed to attend his banquet dinner because the venue didn't serve blacks. He died of leukemia at the age of 23 in 1963. That element of his story is well known to football fans. What the filmmakers concentrate on in The Express
isn't just Davis' athletic prowess, but the relationship he had with his coach Ben Schwartzwalder (Dennis Quaid). Rob Brown (Stop-Loss, Coach Carter
) lends both gravity and charm to the role of Davis. He plays Davis as a strong willed and moral young man who refuses to let racism and discrimination dominate his life. He joins a Jewish fraternity, gets along with his predominantly white teammates and shows respect for his family and coach. The film is wise not to present Schwartzwalder as wholly colour blind. Though not overtly racist, he makes a few references that would not be acceptable in modern-day society. Overall though, the coach doesn't care what colour his players are, as long as they share the common goal of winning. Quaid is well cast in the role, adding just the right amount of gruff mannerisms without becoming a caricature. Brown has the difficult task of adding suspense to a character where most of the audience already knows his fate. Still, he manages to keep moviegoers on their toes--hoping for a miracle that we know will never come. --Jae-Ha Kim