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Miramax Pictures presents
The Heart of the Game (2006)

"Look into their eyes!"
- Bill Resler (coach)

Review By: Dan Heaton  
Published: February 27, 2007

Stars: Bill Resler, Darnellia Russell, Ludacris
Other Stars: Devon Crosby Helms, Maude Lepley, Joyce Walker
Director: Ward Serrill

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief strong language
Run Time: 01h:37m:35s
Release Date: February 27, 2007
UPC: 786936704594
Genre: documentary


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ AB+B+ B+

DVD Review

Judging by his grizzled beard, pudgy belly, and lack of hair, Bill Resler appears to be a typical middle-aged guy. However, when the fiery tax professor arrives to coach the Roosevelt Roughriders girls basketball team, he completely changes the environment. Eliminating plays and focusing solely on running, his approach brings a rare intensity to the energetic team. His methods make his team into a contender for state, regardless of each player's individual size or ability. However, the arrival of a unique girl of remarkable talent could raise the stakes and make them one of the country's best teams.

The Heart of the Game profiles one of Seattle's most prominent high school basketball teams and the unpredictable events that they face. Narrated dryly by Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, the film begins as a straightforward tale that shows the great success that is possible on the court. Resler may provide the spark, but it's the girls who tackle his message and give superb efforts to improve their fitness. Full-court basketball is no joke, and pressing the other team for the entire game requires incredible endurance. Resler also stresses the importance of the team concept over individual achievements. His idea of the "Inner Circle" gives the players a chance to bond apart from him and air any personal grievances. While this concept appears a bit hokey, it works for the determined individuals and appears to create an actual team of comrades. Some players may score more points, but they all give full effort on defense, which leads to impressive results.

One of the film's primary figures is Darnellia Russell—a highly talented African-American girl with a major chip on her shoulder. Attending the predominately white Roosevelt instead of nearby Garfield, she struggles to grow comfortable with the new environment. She shows tremendous skill on the court but has middling grades. Her mother was only 14 when Darnellia was born, and she hopes to be the first member of her family to graduate from college. These aspirations include playing in the WNBA, and that prospect is not as far-fetched as you might expect. The future appears bright for Darnellia, but real life intervenes and may curtail her dreams. While she struggles to return to the court, the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) attempts to prevent this occurrence. Without giving away too much, I'll just say that the WIAA does not utilize modern, open-minded thinking in handling Darnellia's situation.

Resler begins each basketball season with a new theme, mostly involving animals. Examples include the pride of lions, tropical storm, and pack of wolves. When you see girls chanting about killing and drawing blood before each the game, the result can be disturbing. However, Resler stresses the phrases "have fun" before each game, which reveals his ultimate focus. I played basketball recreationally as a kid, and the joy of competing that the girls display is charming. The sport truly rewards effort and teamwork, which can often overwhelm pure talent and win the game. Their rival Garfield is coached by basketball legend Joyce Walker, and her coaching style is much different than Resler's fiery approach. She appears quiet but firm, and this approach makes Garfield one of the state's strongest teams. Both coaches exude tremendous passion for the game, which is the essential aspect of any great motivator.

This documentary reveals both the benefits and tragedy that can happen to high-caliber girls basketball players. While some thrive and earn college scholarships, others face some serious personal issues. Devon generates smiles with her utter confidence in the earlygoing, but we learn that it masks a very troubling secret. After losing her way in basketball, she reveals that an adult confidante did not act appropriately. This scandal illuminates the dangers involved in such a high-risk, high-reward atmosphere and reminds us that the participants are only teenagers. Basketball success can generate confidence and great rewards, but no program offers a perfect situation.

Director Ward Serrill began shooting The Heart of the Game with few ideas of where the film would go. The results could not have been better if they were scripted and include a wide range of riveting storylines. This film's real-life odyssey is fascinating, and Serrill does a good job presenting the chronology. However, there are a few areas that beg for more information. First of all, Darnellia's participation is pretty limited for being the primary focus. I'm guessing this was her decision, but it gives us less insight into her feelings. Secondly, Resler's background and current marital situation are confusing. I believe his involvement is very positive, but a few more minutes about his personal life would have enhanced the perspective. The narration sometimes is awkward, but it keeps everything simple and should work for a teenage audience. I hope that young viewers will take a break from seeing the latest blockbuster and check out this uplifting picture. It offers a positive message for everyone, but could particularly inspire teens similarly struggling with similiar life and sports.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The Heart of the Game offers a consistent 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that presents the low-budget documentary footage with few noticeable blemishes. While the images often involve simple shots of the players practicing and competing in games, this release offers a worthy presentation. The filmed material is not designed to provide majestic images, and this transfer serves its purpose.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Spanishyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: This release includes a 5.1-channel Dolby Digital transfer that provides a few impressive moments from Angel's musical score. However, much of the documentary involves conversations and basketball games, so the chances for inventive sounds are limited. The audio does well, though, which helps to generate an involving presentation.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Meet the Robinsions,The Queen, Deja Vu
12 Deleted Scenes
1 Documentaries
5 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director Ward Serrill
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: The Heart of the Game is the type of film that would benefit greatly from informative bonus features, and this release fails to disappoint. The commentary, deleted scenes, and a nice collection of featurettes help to enhance our enjoyment of the story. The individual extras are described in the following sections:

Commentary
Director Ward Serrill provides an interesting discussion with good background on the key figures and the filming process. There are considerable quiet stretches and he sometimes discusses events a short time before they appear on the screen. However, this track should be a worthy listen for viewers looking to discover nice tidbits about the production. Serrill speaks with a warm familiarity and avoids simply describing the on-screen events, which leads to an engaging commentary.

Deleted Scenes (27:09)
This impressive collection of 12 deleted scenes includes a good mix of silly throwaway moments and notable dramatic material. We learn the story of Jade from season one, who appeared only briefly in the completed film. She was called "uncoachable" and struggled with discipline but was able to thrive under Wesler. A lighter segment involves the ridiculous Riderman, the colorful mascot who stands on the school's roof in a memorable scene. The best moment shows Darnellia speaking about growing up in Louisiana. It would have been a worthy inclusion in the film, but Serrill had to make difficult cuts to keep the story at a manageable running time.

Making the Heart of the Game (26:05)
This extensive interview depicts Serrill and Resler speaking about the film's origins and the creative process. The director's intention was to only follow season one, but Darnellia's arrival completely altered his approach. The friendly duo speaks about the film's key elements, including Maud Lepley, Joyce Walker, and Devon's unfortunate situation. It offers memorable background about the picture and an effective overview of the lengthy production.

Beyond the Heart of the Game (24:05)
This enjoyable collection of five featurettes offers more detailed looks at specific aspects of the film. They include an interview with Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Resler hanging out with his three entertaining daughters, Darnelia enjoying a family barbecue, and updates on several key participants, including Maude Leply (now 102!). The lengthiest segment involves Serrill, Resler, and Darnellia going on the road to promote the film. Their travels include a Q&A in Washington D.C., a train ride to New York City, and a CNN interview. During the train ride, Resler discusses his young days as a card shark, which reveals another interesting side of his complicated persona.

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

The Heart of the Game does conclude with "the big game" between Roosevelt and their rival Garfield, but the ultimate result is not the key factor. Instead, Darnellia Russell's chance to even compete at this level again provides great inspiration. This memorable film presents the joys of high-school basketball and the unlimited possibilities for young women if they work together and strive to achieve their dreams.

 


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