He Got Game (1998)


The plot of the film follows the prisoner Jake Shuttlesworth (Denzel Washington), sentenced to a long term in prison for murder, and his son Jesus (the famous NBA basketball player Ray Allen), who is the biggest high school basketball talent in the country, who is being sought after by agents and universities. Jake is released for a week to convince Jesus to attend Big State University, in return for a pardon from the governor. The problem is that the two are by no means on good terms…

He Got Game is the type of movie that will leave a good impression on a true basketball fan. Spike Lee cast numerous basketball players for the role of Jesus, his first pick was Kobe Bryant, and close to the role was Allen Iverson, who still did not meet the minimum acting qualities required for this role. The choice fell on the current record holder for the number of three-pointers in the NBA, a champion who reduced the mechanics of the shot to an art. Although an amateur actor, Ray received good reviews for his performance, I believe that he had a lot of fun during the filming, and the nickname Jesus remained with him throughout his career.

Spike Lee is a filmmaker who has the status of an author in the classic sense of the word because he is consistent with himself and his films have a soul. Most sports movies are coming-of-age stories where we follow a character from their beginnings to performing on the big stage or a character who is an underdog, but Lee avoids that type of cliché. He presents us here as a basketball player to whom all doors are open, and because of this, everyone alive hangs around him in order to collect some of the money or fame. I would place this movie somewhere between a satire of recruiting athletes and a family drama, and the movie almost tangibly presented the pressure that Jesus was dealing with. A few years ago, there was talk of a sequel to the film in which Ray would portray Jesus at the end of his career, but it seems that everything is left to the story.

The backbone of the script is the father-son relationship, i.e. the attempts to reconnect Jake with Jesus, but the author maintains the central focus on the rising basketball star, how close he is to realizing his dreams, but also the problems and pressures that such a status brings him. We see the dark side of drafting young talents and bribery systems to get athletes to become members of the university, but we also see how the system of service for service reigns in the prison system and that at the highest level. We are becoming aware that a good part of sports is filled with people whose only goal is to make money, as in all other jobs, which further implies that sports is just a business.

Spike Lee is certainly a person who is not afraid of creative risks, and this film is different from his previous ones because there is not so much politics. He Got Game has an emotional note, Lee changes tempo and tones nicely, and he weaves his religious devotion to basketball into every frame. Beneath the facade of a basketball movie, there is a striking story about a father and son, and the script provides our characters with a few more side stories. While everything related to Jesus is correct and meaningful to me, I find some parts of Jake’s story, like his relationship with the prostitute Dakota (Milla Jovovich), redundant. Somehow they watered down the script and added more melodrama to it than necessary, thus extending the duration.

Denzel Washington unequivocally belongs to the group of actors without a bad role. He delighted me for the umpteenth time, first with his convincing performance, and then with his basketball skills. By the end of the film, I couldn’t figure out whether his pressure on Jesus was a product of good parental intentions or anger at his own failure. Seeing Ray Allen next to him is kind of unreal, but totally convincing. The presentation of their final duel is the work of a true master, and it will turn out that the duel was actually played, and not filmed according to a script. The poetic finale conveys the spiritual bond between father and son, but also a man who received a long-awaited farewell. I believe that you have heard two songs by the band Public Enemy even if you haven’t seen this movie – He Got Game and Unstoppable.