D.J. Haza presents the next entry in his series of films to watch before you die…
He Got Game, 1998.
Directed by Spike Lee.
Starring Denzel Washington, Ray Allen, Milla Jovovich, Rosario Dawson, Jim Brown and John Turturro.
He Got Game is a sports film with a difference! The story follows Jesus Shuttlesworth (Allen), the top rated prospect in US high school basketball. As Jesus is trying to work out whether he should go straight to the NBA or to choose a college to play ball at whilst he gets an education everyone is throwing things at him to get him go with them. Money, women and gifts are all offered in return for his signature, but Jesus must think about himself and his younger daughter who he cares for.
Jesus’ father, Jake (Washington), tracks his son’s every move from his prison cell via newspaper clippings. Despite currently serving time for the manslaughter of his wife and Jesus’ mother Jake is allowed out of prison for one week to try and convince Jesus to attend the Sate Governor’s college of choice, Big State. Jake’s attempts to talk to Jesus bring about animosity and resentment as he tries cut off his father.
The relationship between Jake and Jesus seems irreparable as their story is told in a series of flashbacks in which Jake pushes a teenage Jesus in order to prepare him to become a better basketball player. Jesus struggles with his father’s cold and calculated approach to fatherhood as a wedge is driven between them. When Jake does eventually get a chance to talk to his son and explain his situation Jesus and him have a brief moment, but still no reconciliation and Jake makes his way back to his cell.
Ray Allen was a young basketball player himself in the NBA at the time and his performance has been commended by many critics. Through the film both Jake and Jesus learn their own lessons in life and the pair work well together on screen with Allen playing an energetic young man full of angst and Washington an older man who has spent plenty of time reflecting on himself. The two varied performances work incredibly well together in one of Spike Lee’s best films to date.
Another major bonus for He Got Game is its unbelievable soundtrack with Public Enemy creating an original soundtrack for the film. The title track He Got Game is a classic piece of hip-hop that will have you tapping your toes and the rest of the soundtrack adds to a very clear hip-hop influence throughout the film.
He Got Game is a stunning film that you must see before you die as it uses basketball as a vehicle in which to tell a story of fatherhood, family and parenting. Although the basketball doesn’t feature much through the film it is constantly referenced and used as a tool to teach Jesus the morals and ethics that would make him a great basketball player and a good man.