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

New Movies

Cars 3 Movie Review

Cars 3 Movie Review

It's been six years since the last Cars movie (there were two Planes movies in...

The Beguiled Movie Review

The Beguiled Movie Review

In her inimitable loose style, Sofia Coppola remakes the 1971 Clint Eastwood movie from a...

War for the Planet of the Apes Movie Review

War for the Planet of the Apes Movie Review

The surprisingly thoughtful prequel trilogy comes to a powerful conclusion with this robust, dramatic thriller,...

It Comes At Night Movie Review

It Comes At Night Movie Review

This sharply original horror film not only approaches its premise from an unexpected angle, but...

Okja Movie Review

Okja Movie Review

As Tilda Swinton reteams with her Snowpiercer director, Korea's Bong Joon Ho, it's perhaps unsurprising...

Spider-Man: Homecoming Movie Review

Spider-Man: Homecoming Movie Review

This may be the third reboot of this franchise in 15 years, risking audience exhaustion,...

Despicable Me 3 Movie Review

Despicable Me 3 Movie Review

Actually the fourth film in the series (don't forget the prequel Minions), this animated super-villain...

Advertisement
Baby Driver Movie Review

Baby Driver Movie Review

Wildly energetic and so cool it hurts, this action movie has been put together in...

All Eyez On Me Movie Review

All Eyez On Me Movie Review

There's a clear sense that this Tupac Shakur biopic is hoping to build on the...

Hampstead Movie Review

Hampstead Movie Review

Deliberately appealing to older audiences, this undemanding comedy-drama comes with a hint of social relevance...

The Book of Henry Movie Review

The Book of Henry Movie Review

Apparently, this offbeat script had been making the rounds in Hollywood for some 20 years...

Transformers: The Last Knight Movie Review

Transformers: The Last Knight Movie Review

With this fifth Transformers movie, it seems clear that Michael Bay is still trying to...

Churchill Movie Review

Churchill Movie Review

This drama about the iconic British prime minister tells a darkly personal story set over...

Gifted Movie Review

Gifted Movie Review

This is one of those films that dances right up to the edge of soapy...

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.