Hoop Dreams (1994) (PG-13)
"Hoop Dreams" may just be the most well-known documentary, thanks in largely to Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel who praised the movie upon its release in the 90s. Ebert would later go on to say that it was the best film of the decade, beating out such mammoth pictures as "Pulp Fiction" or "Goodfellas"; but that doesn't mean that the film has aged well.
The movie follows two young boys, William Gates and Arthur Agee, as they go through highschool and begin a collegiate career, hoping to eventually find themselves in the NBA—hence the title of the documentary.
Because it's such a lengthy film, spanning four plus years, you can expect that your butt will probably lose its feelings; and there really isn't a motivation to the film—it's realism and we understand this, but that doesn't make it watchable.
The film is interesting in odd characters and wonderfully intimate moments, in failures and successes.
William Gates is one of the most promising basketball starts to reach highschool, commentators can't shut up about his promise and about how he'll find himself in the big leagues eventually. That dream seems to be far out of reach as William keeps running into injury after injury. His coach is interested in making "men" out of these boys and my skin crawls every time he is on screen; but that's because I have a personal aversion to dominance in adolescence. There is one scene near the end of the film where William is talking to his coach and seems pretty resentful for the treatment that he got. But the coach is positive that in five or ten years, William will walk back in the door and shake his hand, thankful for every time he had to run more laps.
Yet William finds himself at a more prestigious institution than Arthur does. William is attending the local Catholic highschool which is supposed to be a better school for helping students who want to go to college.
Arthur originally attends the same school as William, but when his mother has to quit her job and his dad leaves home, he finds himself without the financial means to go to the school and is forced to return to the public highschool. He gets placed on the basketball team there, but his in-and-out of different schools has made a chaotic transcript that will need heavy editing before he can even think about going to college. He tells the camera that he is mad at both schools for doing this to him.
William and Arthur both come from low-income homes, but William is privately being financed by a couple who sees his potential for a basketball career. Arthur gets no such funding.
At this time in the documentary, the audience is still left wondering what will happen to the two boys as they transition from one year to the next and if they will ever find themselves in the NBA. In this way "Hoop Dreams" is not as optimistic as certain recent documentaries like "20 Feet to Stardom". It never sugar-coats its issue and it never presses to hard into the personal life.
It does have the unfortunate feeling of faux situations. There are so many shots of a single instance that it makes me question how many cameras they had and how "honest" they are being. It's certainly questionable.
But the thing that really sinks the documentary is its length and its lack of emotional appeal. It may be altruistically superior; but it does not make me care about either William or Arthur or their potential careers.
It is well-handled, well-made, often revealing, and often boring.
Posted by Micah Jones