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Fader Films presents
"I was never as great as I could have been. Basketball was my god. And drugs."
DVD ReviewJust about the roughest thing you can be is a might have been. It's human nature to Monday morning quarterback our lives, to some extent: why didn't I? I wish I had said. If only I could go back and. And so part of being human is living with some regrets about the roads not taken; for most of us, however, the contrast between what is and what could have been isn't as bleak and stark as it is for Demetrius Mitchell, the subject of this documentary. Hook is one of the legendary figures of Oakland playground basketball—all of 5' 9", he had hops enough to jump over a car and jam—but he didn’t end up in the NBA, or even at a first-tier collegiate program. Instead, Hook's tale is all too familiar, a young man in desperate circumstances making bad choices, and ending up in prison.
Mitchell's tale is that much more poignant because one of his playground buddies was Gary Payton, now in the waning years of a great NBA career. It may be facile sociology, but that doesn’t mean it's inaccurate; the film suggests that the principal difference between Payton and Mitchell was that Payton had a strict father, who saw to it that his son went to school, went to church, and adhered to the straight and narrow. Mitchell's story is different—his mother shot heroin and he was raised principally by his grandmother; he started smoking pot when he was ten, and doing coke when he was in seventh grade. He still had game, though, and he pushed on into high school—he describes his 10th-grade daily academic regimen as "six periods of gym"—and even though he never got his high school diploma, he played some juco ball, for Contra Costa, in northern California. But as they sometimes do, one thing led to another, petty theft led to Mitchell knocking over a Blockbuster Video, and while Gary Payton was the second pick in the 1990 NBA draft, Mitchell was doing 51 months.
The filmmakers spend a good amount of time with Mitchell in prison; he plays basketball in the yard, and he's clearly still got some skills. But it's obviously been a rough road for him, though he seems to have made peace with himself and the world, and he doesn't give off any of the anger or resentment that you might expect. On hand to testify about Mitchell's ability and journey are both Payton and his father; Jason Kidd, also a veteran of the Oakland playgrounds; NBA agents and scouts, old girlfriends and running buddies, just about all of the people who witnessed Mitchell fall from such a height, who saw the potential in the young man for stardom squandered.It’s hard from a distance to assess Mitchell’s talent—even if all the legendary stories about him are true, he's still only 5'9", and players that (relatively) short in the NBA are anomalies. (Even Isiah Thomas and Allen Iverson, arguably the best two small guards in the history of the game, are each six feet tall.) That doesn’t make Mitchell’s journey any less heartbreaking, however, and if nothing else, he demonstrates that he's a survivor. The filmmaking itself is restrained and workmanlike; they pretty much let Hook and the people in his world tell the story, and it's one worth listening to, for its deeply human elements and as a cautionary tale.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: There are some resolution problems with the transfer—sometimes it looks overly grainy, sometimes there’s a whole lot of glare—but it's largely free of scratches and dirt.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: The 5.1 track seems to be here principally because the soundtrack is tricked out with hip hop, which sounds fine, but can occasionally overpower the people talking on screen; the 2.0 track does the job just as well. Also, perhaps someone was looking ahead for possible broadcast, because garden-variety profanities have been bleeped out in the interviews; they're nothing compared to what you'd hear at just about any pickup game anywhere. (Believe me, as a short slow point guard with no shot, I know whereof I speak, as more than a few of these have been directed at me.)
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 10 cues and remote access
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Biggie & Tupac
Extras Review: Hook Comes Home (20m:56s) is a ponderous look at Mitchell's last day in prison and his new beginning on the outside; it's really pretty slow, and you can see why the feature ends where it does. You’ll also find conversations with NBA stars Steve Francis and Baron Davis; Master P, an old buddy of Hook's; Ralph Moore, his prison mentor; and Christopher Williams, another inmate. Prison Ball (06m:37s) is a look at the game behind bars; some of Hook's buddies from the inside provide the sounds for Inmate Freestyle (00m:53s), as we look at hoop highlights. You'll also find information on and a link to the website for Project Straight Path, Hook's foundation.
Extras Grade: C
Final CommentsThough it may lack the nearly epic proportions of a sports documentary like Hoop Dreams, this is a low-key, straightforward telling of the story of a young man with talent to burn but lacking judgment or guidance, and of the consequences and reverberations of his actions through a lifetime. The filmmaking doesn’t have the look-at-me quality of Hook's game, but it's nevertheless a solid piece of work.
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