I never totally trust
movies which are "based on a true story." Most of them are
much more "based" than "true." I don't know exactly how Hollywood-ized
this version of the story of Jim Ellis is. I have met the man and I do know
that he really was a swim coach who opened a pool in a run-down pool in the
Philadelphia ghettos in the mid-70s and started a team which quickly became
Like most of these films,
Pride takes a lot of liberties with the facts. You know what?
It works, though. Pride is a funny, smart, inspirational sports
picture that makes you think that even if this isn't the way it went down,
it really should have been.
Terrence Howard (Crash,
Hustle & Flow) plays Jim Ellis with laid-back, quiet charm and calm but with
a mostly controlled undercurrent a seething pool of anger and resentment.
When Ellis takes over a decrepit youth center which is scheduled for
closure, he is desperate for any job and not expecting to get anywhere with
this dead-end position.
He intrudes upon the
long-time janitor (Bernie Mac), a crotchety aging guy who has resigned to
the fact that he has wasted his time in this job for decades, but he has no
other options. Bernie Mac, who has rarely reached the comic heights of
his TV series on the big screen, comes damned close to stealing the film.
He is both uproariously funny and surprisingly touching as a man who has
given up on life only to find that he still has passion for his work.
When the city insists on
removing the basketball rims from the playground, Ellis, a college swimmer,
decides to clean and open the long shuttered pool. At first the local
kids mock the idea of swimming, but through Ellis' passion they become
intrigued with the idea of swimming and competing. They find a purpose
and it keeps them mostly out of trouble and off of the streets.
Sometimes the story can be
a little too black-and-white -- literally. The scenes with the teams
main opposition -- the rich, lily-white and not-so-subtly racist (and wholly
fictional) Main Line Academy may be somewhat based on fact, but they are
done a little too heavy-handedly. Tom Arnold is surprisingly good as
the vaguely prejudiced Coach of the Academy, though.
As a lifelong
Philadelphian, it was a little distracting that most of the film was not
done in the city (it was mostly shot in Shreveport, Louisiana.) Then,
one of the few real shots of the city showed all the gleaming glass towers
of the skyline, none of which were there in 1974, when the film took place.
There was a gentlemen's agreement that no building would be higher than City
Hall until the mid-80s. It made me wonder if they couldn't find stock
footage of the city from that time, or at the very least digitally erase the
skyscrapers. Now, granted, people who don't know the city that well
would probably never even catch this anachronism, but for Philadelphians or
anyone who knows the city pretty well, it
sticks out like a sore thumb.
However, even if the
scenery is a little off the mark, the vibe of the city in the 70s is caught
well. This is augmented by a soundtrack made mostly of classic 70s
Philadelphia International soul hits by the likes of the O'Jays, The Staple
Singers and the Isley Brothers.
There is nothing
overly original about Pride, but that's okay. It tells a very
good story and it tells it well. What more can you ask for?