An inspirational sports doc that's genuinely uplifting and usually engaging, "The Heart of the Game" focuses on the Roosevelt (in the Seattle area) Roughriders, a girl's basketball team that, early in the story, has just found a new coach in Bill Resler, a college tax professor who saw an opportunity for a challenge and give a boost to a girl's team in a school that had given its primary support to the men's teams.
Resler's strategy was to dismantle the offense and have the team run full-court press. Resler puts the team through insanely tough drills; while he wasn't sure how they'd react to such punishing workouts, they soon realize that the coach's unconventional strategies are just what they'd needed. They suddenly become white hot, winning game after game by startling amounts. Soon, the attendance at the girls' games is higher than it is at the boys' games.
Darnellia Russell, a talented player who transfered into Roosevelt from a mostly African-American school, is quickly snapped up by Resler to be on the team. The film follows Darnellia's adjustment in her new school and the team over several seasons. While Darnelia looks to have a bright future in basketball (colleges are knocking at her door), she first finds herself having to bring up bad grades and then faces a serious issue when she becomes pregnant. She doesn't given up however, and enters a court battle against the league in order to play. The team keeps her on in defiance of the ruling against her. Resler also has to repair gradually falling team morale.
Resler is a great character - intense (despite his mild-mannered appearance in the interview segments), but supportive and genuinely encouraging. "Heart of the Game" also does an excellent job profiling some of the main players, who are engaging and get the audience to root for them.
"Heart of the Game" does go with too much narration (rapper/actor Ludacris provides straightforward narration for the picture) and some of the unnecessary narration could have been dropped. That aside, "Heart of the Game" otherwise does an impressive job following the Resler and his team over the years. In a time where sports movies often feel cliched and bland, "Heart of the Game" presents a compelling and emotional story quite well. A solid debut from director Ward Serrill.
VIDEO: "Heart of the Game" is presented by Miramax in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. The presentation quality is - considering the low-budget material - pretty good. Sharpness and detail are usually just fine, although there are a few moments here-and-there where the picture can appear mildly softer. Some slight artifacting and shimmering are seen, but really don't get in the way of the enjoyment of the film. Colors remained natural and crisp, only appearing a bit smeary once or twice.
SOUND: The stereo soundtrack presents dialogue, narration and music crisply and clearly, with no distortion or other issues.
EXTRAS: Deleted scene with director's commentary, director's commentary, "making of" featurette and "Beyond 'The Heart of the Game'" featurette, with interviews with Resler and Darnellia Russell.
Final Thoughts: "The Heart of the Game" does an impressive job following the Resler and his team over the years. In a time where sports movies often feel cliched and bland, "Heart of the Game" does a marvelous job of presenting this team and their compelling and emotional story. A solid debut from director Ward Serrill.
The Film B+