Directed by Akin Omotoso.
Starring Uche Agada, Dayo Okeniyi, Yetide Badaki, Ral Agada, Jaden Osimuwa, Elijah Sholanke, Manish Dayal, Taylor Nichols, Maximiliano Hernández, Pilar Holland, Chinua Baraka Payne, McColm Cephas Jr., Efthimis Chalkidis, Aaron Kingsley Adetola, Jahleel Kamara, and Anthony Abiola.
Based on the real-life story about the family that produced the first trio of brothers to become NBA champions in the history of the league.
If you’re like me and have been checked out of basketball recently, Rise will sneak up on you as a larger-than-life story with an ending and an epilogue so happy it feels more like fantasy than reality. Due to my blinders that three of these brothers went on to become NBA champions, I admit the tension of the third act for me will probably end up higher than that of the average viewer, but knowing absolutely nothing about the Nigerian-Greek Adetokunbo (with the misspelled Greek variation being Antetokounmpo) family boosted my engagement and made the experience more rewarding, leaving me grateful to have taken a crash course learning about them.
For everyone else, it’s tough to imagine Rise playing as anything but a relatively safe, sanitized, and mainly cliché sports biopic that hits all the important events. That’s partly because director Akin Omotoso and writer Arash Amel stick to the Antetokounmpo children learning the art of basketball on an Athens youth team rather than some of the more intriguing elements in the background, such as racism during the early 2000s, the family undocumented and financially struggling and constantly in danger of deportation, and the parents having had to give up their firstborn son while fleeing from Nigeria to Greece (there is maybe one Skype conversation with him, now fully grown, with the narrative seemingly leaving a lot of pain and authentic emotion on the table). It’s good that the basketball movie is about basketball, but the script introduces many fascinating aspects of the family’s lives that feel underexplored.
Some terrific scenes in Rise come from parents Charles and Veronika (Dayo Okeniyi and Yetide Badaki, respectively) discussing and dealing with the risks of encouraging their children to chase their dreams with their gifts. Yes, exposure could lead to a professional international contract plan for a European team, but it also puts a target on the family and their undocumented status. The potential danger initially sees Charles fearful of letting his oldest boys join the youth group until Veronika, the cooler collected of the two and more daring, explains that they have to be afforded that chance to make something of the incredible talent they possess.
Eldest siblings Thannis and Giannis (Ral Agada and Uche Agada, with both relative newcomers delivering outstanding physical and emotional performances) are the first to pick up on basketball. They share a tight connection across every facet of their lives, including carrying their weight financially by peddling junk for cash. Thankfully, there are no forced rivalries about one being better than the other, as the primary lesson here is that when one family member succeeds, everyone is a winner. They are dedicating themselves to sharpening their craft with aspirations of playing professionally so they can be the ones supporting the family, with no one needing to worry no longer about affording rent or deportation.
Since Rise spends considerable time with Charles and Veronika as younger adults and takes its time establishing family and character dynamics, the crowd-pleasing climactic payoff here is rousingly effective. Even being aware that the film has taken a dramatized route in bringing this story to life, what’s surprising is that it feels as if one or two more movies could be made about the Antetokounmpo family. There’s just that much ground to cover, especially with other siblings following in the same footsteps. Simultaneously, it’s also a positive Rise is limited to a single nearly two-hour movie because the execution is still a bit overly sugary without much challenging material. One could say it’s on Disney+ for a reason. Still, the film works enough due to the unique risk and reward concept of letting the boys play, the beautiful strength and unity of the family, and the absolute craziness of what Thannis and Giannis went on to do in their careers.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com