Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 42
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
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For more movie summaries, see Kam's Kapsules.

THE ELMIRA EXPRESS ACHIEVES GLORY: Ernie Davis (Rob Brown) reaches the pinnacle of his career when he receives the Heisman trophy. His life was cut short by leukemia and he never got to play professional football for the Cleveland Browns.

The Express: Rob Brown Stars as Late Gridiron Great in Biopic

Kam Williams

Having been raised in rural Pennsylvania by his grandparents until the age of 12, Ernie Davis (Rob Brown) had to overcome his humble beginnings on his way to achieve gridiron greatness, During those formative years he forged a close bond with the man he called Pops (Charles S. Dutton), a coal miner who instilled a solid work ethic and a sense of dignity in his young grandson. Those character traits became priceless to Ernie and enabled him to overcome the obstacles he encountered in his life merely because he was born black in an age when intolerance and segregation were the order of the day.

By the time his widowed mother (Elizabeth Shivers) remarried and regained custody of her son, he had developed the steely resolve to be the best, and the temperament to oppose discrimination whenever he encountered it. Both his athletic prowess and his yearning for equality are the subject of The Express, a bittersweet biopic based on the best selling biography of the same name by Robert C. Gallagher. The title comes from the nickname Ernie earned in high school in upstate New York, where he was dubbed “The Elmira Express” because of his considerable feats on the football field as a running back.

Following the legendary Jim Brown (Darrin Dewitt Henson) to Syracuse University, Davis went on to eclipse his predecessor. He lead their alma mater to a national championship and became the first African American to win the Heisman Trophy, which is given annually to the nation’s best college football player. From college he was drafted by the Cleveland Browns, but unfortunately his promising career was cut short when Ernie succumbed to leukemia at the age of 23, and he never got to play in the NFL.

Directed by Gary Fleder, The Express does an excellent job of chronicling critical moments in the abbreviated life of Ernie Davis. Two examples are when he was refused accommodations in the South at a “white only” hotel, and was threatened, because of his skin color, by fans from an opponent’s school. Credit goes to Rob Brown for depicting Ernie Davis’s combination of integrity, vulnerability, and sheer guts. Equally effective are the supporting performances of Omar Benson Miller as his teammate and buddy Jack Buckley, and Dennis Quaid as Syracuse’s Coach Ben Schwartzwalder.

The film realistically recreates the historical period with its retro musical score and has authentically reproduced backdrops, wardrobes, mannerisms, and even slang from the movie’s time. This painstaking attention to detail adds to the picture’s palpable sense of realism. The Express is a fine addition to the recent series of socially conscious sports movies such as Glory Road, The Great Debaters, and Meet the Titans, each of which presents the triumphs of individuals and explores the meanings of each film’s historic moments.

Excellent (3.5 stars) Rated PG for violence, mature themes, ethnic slurs and brief sensuality. Running time: 129 minutes. Studio: Universal Pictures.

For more movie summaries, see Kam's Kapsules.

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