The Express

"Good"

The Express Review


Ernie Davis made the most of his too-brief life.

Football came naturally to the Pennsylvania native, and it was on the gridiron where he cemented his identity. A gifted running back, Davis was recruited by the great Jim Brown to play for coach Ben Schwartzwalder at Syracuse University. While an Orangeman, Davis earned MVP honors at the Cotton Bowl in 1960 and the Liberty Bowl in '61. Later that year, Davis became the first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy. The Washington Redskins used their first pick in the 1962 draft on Davis (though the team immediately traded him to the Cleveland Browns). But in 1963, before playing a single down in the National Football League, Davis died of leukemia at the age of 23.

It's an unenviable task, committing Davis' eventful existence to the truncated blueprint of the cinematic biopic. In deconstructing The Express for a two-hour run, director Gary Fleder chooses to glance over Davis' formative years and focus on his collegiate career under Schwartzwalder's tutelage. He casts Dennis Quaid as the coach and Rob Brown in the lead, giving the young actor his most textured role since the maudlin Sean Connery vehicle Finding Forrester.

And the moves largely pay off. Quaid hammers the same gruff note, and Brown is built like a football star, having played wide receiver at Amherst College in Massachusetts. But it's off the field where Brown shoulders the load, displaying a welcome passion and steely fortitude when faced with the hatred and bigotry Davis encountered while playing during a segregated decade.

Race plays a major part in Express. Growing up, Davis idolized Brooklyn Dodger Jackie Robinson, who broke baseball's color barrier but, in Davis' words, "did a lot without saying nothing" (screenwriter Charles Leavitt actually makes Davis more of a mouthpiece for desegregation and racial equality than is alluded to in Robert Gallagher's book, upon which this film is based). Davis is told repeatedly that he's playing both for Syracuse and the black community. Brown gives an emotional speech about representing the black fans who've come to see him play. On the flip side, West Virginia and Texas fans come off looking like card-carrying Klan members.

Fleder steadily builds Express toward the 1960 Cotton Bowl between Syracuse and the University of Texas, played in a hostile Dallas stadium. It feels like the film's natural conclusion, and even includes a shot of Davis victoriously riding on the shoulders of teammates. Cue the credits, right?

Not yet. Plenty of landmarks remained in Davis' short life, and Express shortchanges them a bit by cramming them into a post-Cotton Bowl coda. This includes his historic Heisman win, his NFL draft day, and his untimely death. The pacing is off, which makes Express feel longer than it actually is. Think of it this way. The Cotton Bowl is halftime of a commendable biopic that drags slightly but remains reverent to Davis' remarkable skills and undeniable legacy.

Choo choo!



The Express

Facts and Figures

Run time: 130 mins

In Theaters: Friday 10th October 2008

Box Office USA: $9.6M

Box Office Worldwide: $9.8M

Budget: $40M

Distributed by: Universal Pictures

Production compaines: Universal Pictures, Davis Entertainment, Relativity Media

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 61%
Fresh: 70 Rotten: 45

IMDB: 7.3 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Producer: , Arne L. Schmidt,

Starring: as Ernie Davis, as Ben Schwartzwalder, Darrin Henson as Jim Brown, Charles S. Dutton as Willie 'Pops' Davis, as Marie Davis, as Jack Buckley, as Roy Simmons

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

Contactmusic 2017 Exclusive

New Movies

Hidden Figures Movie Review

Hidden Figures Movie Review

This film recounts such a great true story that we don't mind the fact that...

The Founder Movie Review

The Founder Movie Review

This is the story of Ray Kroc, the man who created the concept of McDonald's....

John Wick: Chapter 2 Movie Review

John Wick: Chapter 2 Movie Review

Keanu Reeves picks up his supremely efficient hitman immediately where the 2015 original left him:...

Fences Movie Review

Fences Movie Review

After winning Tony Awards on Broadway, Denzel Washington and Viola Davis reteam for a film...

The Lego Batman Movie Movie Review

The Lego Batman Movie Movie Review

A spin-off from 2014's awesome The Lego Movie, this raucously paced action-comedy is proof that...

The Space Between Us Movie Review

The Space Between Us Movie Review

While the premise of this movie makes it look like a sci-fi adventure, the truth...

Toni Erdmann Movie Review

Toni Erdmann Movie Review

On paper, the idea of a two-hour 40-minute German comedy may not seem very promising,...

Advertisement
Gold Movie Review

Gold Movie Review

Based on a true story, this lively and sometimes outrageous adventure is packed with twists...

Loving Movie Review

Loving Movie Review

While this film tackles a huge issue in the history of race relations in America,...

T2 Trainspotting Movie Review

T2 Trainspotting Movie Review

It's been 20 years since we last saw four freewheeling young junkies from Edinburgh spiral...

Hacksaw Ridge Movie Review

Hacksaw Ridge Movie Review

Based on an astounding true story, this battlefield drama mixes warm emotion with intense action...

Sing Movie Review

Sing Movie Review

The quality of the animation in this musical comedy may not be up to Pixar...

Jackie Movie Review

Jackie Movie Review

Rather than make a standard biopic about the most famous First Lady in American history,...

Split Movie Review

Split Movie Review

After a few badly received sci-fi blockbusters, M. Night Shyamalan returned to his earthier style...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.