He Got Game

Colleagues of mine have called this Spike Lee’s best feature since Malcolm X, though I don’t see how one can embrace that film without undervaluing the book it’s based on. But He Got Game is certainly Lee’s best narrative film in years, and the fact that it’s based on an original script–as were Do the Right Thing and Jungle Fever–is surely telling. The story focuses on the tortured relationship between a father in Attica (Denzel Washington at the top of his form) and the son he ruthlessly trained in basketball (the NBA’s Ray Allen), who’s already famous and about to graduate from high school on Coney Island. Having gone to prison for accidentally killing the boy’s mother, the father is granted a week outside to try to convince his son to attend the governor’s alma mater, with the promise of a reduced sentence if he succeeds. The son, however, despises his father, and though the light complexion of the mother (Lonette McKee) is never mentioned, it seems to play a significant role in the film’s complex emotional dynamics, as does the father’s brief affair with a white prostitute (Milla Jovovich). As usual, Lee tries many kinds of stylistic effects and uses wall-to-wall music (by Aaron Copland and Public Enemy); what’s different this time is how personally driven the story feels. With Rosario Dawson, Hill Harper, Zelda Harris, and Ned Beatty. Burnham Plaza, Chatham 14, Hyde Park, Lawndale, Lincoln Village, Norridge, North Riverside, 600 N. Michigan, 62nd & Western, Webster Place. –Jonathan Rosenbaum

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): film still.