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Mike Barnard

Published March 4th, 2008 | by Mike Barnard

The Express Review

Classification: PG Director: Gary Fleder Rating: 2.5/5

American football has never caught on in the UK, much like the rest of the world. It’s introduction to Channel Four’s schedules brought only mild interest in the sport at best and the Super Bowl is given most attention on these shore when used as a plot device in a television show or movie script. So it’s with some trepidation you might approach The Express, based on a legend of American football named Ernie Davis.

Ernie Davis was the first African-American to win the coveted Heisman Trophy, the highest accolade in American Football. Davis was a naturally talented football player, who developed from a quiet young man to become an icon for the civil rights movement that divided America in the early 1960s. Raised in poverty in Pennsylvania coal-mining country, his talent was recognised by coach Ben Schwartzwalder who would help him turn from an high school athlete to a sporting legend.

Of course, to the majority of Brits, the name Ernie “The Express” Davis will probably mean very little. Yet, as sporting biopics go, the story of Davis is an uplifting one which strides shifting social attitudes in the States. Rob Brown, who has been a quiet man in Finding Forrester and seen sporting movie action in Coach Carter, plays Davis and captures the spirit of a boy-turned-sporting hero who got to the height of his career through sheer dedication even when struck down with leukemia in the prime of his life. Quaid puts in a typically straight-up performance as his no-nonsense coach Schwartzwalder, while the mood and style of the time is captured effectively by the writer of Blood Diamond, Charles Leavitt, and filmed equally well by director Gary Felder (Kiss the Girls, Runaway Jury).

However, while the human interest is clear for all to see, non-American football fans may struggle to get excited as overblown music greets the vital tackles, blocks and touchdowns Davis makes on the field – and there are very few surprises along the way. Though by the end you feel proud for Ernie Davis when he is presented with the Heisman Trophy, there not the same sense of excitement that comes with a music biopic such as Ray or Walk the Line where the performance of the singers is uplifting and offset by personal trouble. The Express rarely touches the same highs and lows, rather playing out simply to its conclusion. American football addicts may well be enthralled to see one of their heroes brought to the big screen, not that there are too many of them on these shores.


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