The Express

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The ViewAuckland Review

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Review byMatthew Turner4/12/2008

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 129 mins

Entertaining drama biopic that marshals its collection of sports biopic cliches to winning effect, aided by superb performances from Dennis Quaid and Rob Brown.

What's it all about?
Directed by Gary Fleder, The Express is a biopic of college football hero Ernie Davis (played by Rob Brown) - nicknamed The Elmira Express for his phenomenal speed on the field - who became the first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy but died in 1963 of leukaemia without ever playing a professional game. The film takes the standard biopic route: we get a glimpse of a crucial game before flashing back to Ernie's childhood, where he's inspired by watching Jackie Robinson on a store window TV with his grandfather (Charles S. Dutton).

After making a name for himself on his high school football team, Ernie is head-hunted by Coach Ben Schwartzwalder (Dennis Quaid) and is offered a scholarship to play for Syracuse University. The team repeatedly suffer racist abuse, especially when playing Southern cities during the Civil Rights era, but Ernie eventually overcomes prejudice and scores a series of small but important victories; when he died, 10,000 people attended his funeral and President Kennedy described him as “an inspiration to the young people of this country”.

The Good
Brown delivers a charismatic and likeable performance as Davis, while there's strong support from Omar Benson Miller, who nabs all the best lines as Ernie's teammate and best friend, JB. In addition, Quaid is perfect as Schwartzwelder, whose own, underlying prejudices are challenged as a result of his relationship with Davis.

Sports movies are traditionally rife with cliches, but if they're done well, then they still push the emotional buttons. The Express is no exception – all the cliches are present and correct (they do the big run-down-the-field scene at least five times) but they bring the tears.

The Bad
That said, the film takes a few liberties with the facts and inexplicably sidelines Ernie's relationship with his college girlfriend (Nicole Beharie).

Worth seeing?
The Express is a likeable and engaging sports biopic, enlivened by strong performances from Quaid and Brown.

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The Express
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Content updated: 15/10/2019 23:18

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