"The Great Debaters"
Directed by Denzel Washington.
Written by Robert Eisele. Based on a true story.
Starring Denzel Washington, Nate Parker, Jurnee Smollett and
Release Year: 2007
Review Date: 12/26/07
The trailer was solid, Oprah produced it,
and Denzel directed it..."The Great Debaters" really is great,
thanks to a fantastic cast of mainly nobodies and a story based in
It's 1935 and at Wiley College--an all-black
institution in Texas--a professor named Melvin Tolson (Denzel
Washington) is trying to get a debate team that is so good it will
have the chance to not only beat the black colleges on Wiley's
debate circuit, but also get the kind of recognition that will allow
it to debate white schools, too...unheard of for the time. His
debaters include the school's first female debater, Samantha Booke (Jurnee
"Roll Bounce"); the son of Wiley scholar James Farmer (Forest
Whitaker), a roly-poly 14-year-old named James Farmer, Jr. (Denzel
Whitaker, who is strangely not related to either Denzel Washington
OR Forest Whitaker); and Henry Lowe (Nate Parker), a good-looking,
smooth-talking, hard-drinking casual genius who has to be convinced
that the debate team is even worth his time.
The dynamics between the debaters, Tolson's
side activities of organizing local sharecroppers, and the elder
Farmer's reluctance to let his son stand on his own at such a young
age are some of the many topics that pop up during the film, all of
which are tied to race relations (and, lack thereof) in Texas, where
as multiple people remind us, "they hang Negroes." The film
deftly mixes this dramatic backdrop with some pretty good laughs as
well as a few fun debates between the Wiley team and their
opponents. The script, by a guy who--I'm not kidding--wrote "Darkman
2" and the shitty "3" movie for ESPN about Dale Earnhardt, is very
good; even now, I can't believe that this guy came up with such a
great script, but there it is, for all the world to see!
Denzel's direction is once again excellent (he also did
Fisher", which I loved), but he helps himself here by appearing
in this movie more than he did in "AF" and that helps the overall
film since there are really no other actors of note besides Forest
And, the film's final debate between Wiley
and Harvard is fantastic...and, like "Antwone Fisher", you better
bring the tissues, male and female alike. In fact, the only
complaint I can level at "The Great Debaters" is that it had too
many teary-eyed moments; this was approaching "Glory"-like status by
the time all was said and done. But, my mom and I hit this for
Christmas and it was a solid treat to follow up on a spectacular
day, and while this might be a better film to the black folks that
caught it with us, I still think this is a film that really does
bridge the gap.
Rating: Opening Weekend
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Bellview Rating System:
"Opening Weekend": This is
the highest rating a movie can receive. Reserved for movies that
exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development,
setting...or Salma Hayek. Not necessarily in that order.
"$X.XX Show": This price
changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently,
it is the $9.50 Show. While not technically perfect, this is a
movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.
"Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca",
but you'll have a great time watching. The $9.50 Show won't win any
Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see
"Matinee": An average movie
that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.
Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about
yourself. A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave
the theater saying "That wasn't too bad...man, did you see that
Lakers game last night?"
"Rental": This rating
indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your
friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one." Mostly forgettable, you
couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to
watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the
video store was out of copies of "Ronin." If you can, see this
movie for free. This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a
"Hard Vice": This rating is
the bottom of the barrel. A movie that only six other human beings
have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen. A Shannon
Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every
one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a
movie. Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or
"Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this
movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!
(Warning: strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard