Hoosiers (1986) / Drama
MPAA Rated: PG for themes and mild language
Running Time: 115 min.
Cast: Gene Hackman, Barbara Hershey, Dennis Hopper, Maris Valainis, David Neidorf
Director: David Anspaugh
Screenplay: Angelo Pizzo
Hoosiers is set in the early 50s, in the small town of Hickory, Indiana, loosely based on the basketball team from Milan High School, which won the state championship. There is a need for a new coach for their basketball team, bringing in former collegiate-level coach Norman Dale (Hackman, Superman II), who has spent the last ten years as a chief petty officer in the Navy. The town is not one for change, especially when it comes to its largest pride and joy, its high school basketball team, and they don't take too kindly to Dale's newfangled training methods. As if the difficulty weren't great enough, the town's, and perhaps the state's, best player (Valainis) has decided to sit out for the year to concentrate on his academics.
Gene Hackman is the stern and shadowy coach Dale, and delivers a very good performance as the man with much to prove, not only to the small town, but to himself. Barbara Hershey (The Stunt Man, Riding the Bullet) and Dennis Hopper (Blue Velvet, Red Rock West) do nicely in supporting roles, as the potential love interest and town drunk...respectively, of course. The romantic angle is mostly unnecessary, but played with a little more depth than most formulaic sports flicks might have done, and Dale's attempts to sober up Shooter Flatch does nicely mirror his own story of redeeming oneself for the mistakes of the past, if someone is willing to give him a chance. For that matter, this also mirrors Dennis Hopper's story when it comes to acting, with a past riddles with drug use and abuse, which all but killed his career. He would get an Oscar nomination for his supporting role here.
This is a feel-good sports movie, the kind you've seen many times before, but Hoosiers sets itself apart with good writing and heart. Although this kind of syrupy sweet story might seem dated by today's standards, especially with the yucky synthesized score by Jerry Goldsmith (for which he received an Oscar nomination for, which only goes to show how bad our taste for music was in the Eighties,) so not everyone will be in the mood for its inherent naivety and somewhat sentimental outlook on life. But hey, naive and sentimental is what 50s Indiana small-town life is all about, and for those who are nostalgic for the simpler days and simpler ways, you'll probably have a special place in your heart for Hoosiers.
©2002 Vince Leo