1994, PG-13, 176 min. Directed by Steve James.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Dec. 23, 1994
Hoop Dreams is an amazing documentary, nearly three hours long, that follows five years in the lives of two promising high school basketball players from Chicago. Filmmaker James, along with producers Frederick Marx and Peter Gilbert, have crafted a genuinely remarkable film that has as much to do with the trials and tribulations of growing up young and black in this country as it does with the sport of basketball. William Gates and Arthur Agee are the two young men in question. Hoop Dreams opens with them in their freshmen year of high school. When famed talent scout Earl Smith spies Agee tearing up the neighborhood court one day, he makes the suggestion to the boys' guidance counselor that Agee might have what it takes to make it out of the shadows of Cabrini-Green and into pro ball. Atheletic scholarship in hand, Agee is bussed to St. Joseph's High School, home of the legendary coach Gene Pingatore and the same school that produced Isiah Thomas. Gates also receives a scholarship. Agee, however, finds it difficult to adjust to his new surroundings, commenting that this is the first time he's attended a school that was anything other than all-black. To top it off, he's a cocksure player on the court, badly in need of essential teamwork skills, still laboring under the anarchic mindset of neighborhood b-ball. There's so much going on in James' documentary that bears commenting on, but it's a film best discovered -- frame by frame, joy by tragedy -- on its own terms. More of an extended, rousing sociology lesson than anything else, it's also the single most remarkable documentary to come down the pike in a long while. And I'm not even a basektball fan.