Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000 to 2009.
Locked deep in Disney’s vaults, there must be outtakes of Denzel Washington cracking up during a two-minute warning of particularly wimpy sentiment in 2000’s Remember the Titans.
The standard analogy of football to warfare turned ludicrous when Washington — having jogged his high-school squad to Gettysburg at dawn — likened these teenagers’ struggles with racism to Civil War battles between the blue and gray. That mist in the air? The steam’s coming off something.
It’s the only hokey Hail Mary in Titans — an otherwise smart, stirring sports film with gridiron hits (and tragic circumstances) that truly hurt. Even taking liberal dramatic license with the truth, Boaz Yakin’s film forcefully addressed plots of prejudice and privilege that The Blind Side lazily whitewashed years later.
Seizing on discord as something to transcend, Herman Boone (Washington), a black coach hired amid racial strife in 1970s Virginia, assembles an improbably successful season with white assistant coach Bill Yoast (Will Patton), whom he’s replaced.
Consider Titans a PG-rated, kind-hearted drill for Washington’s brutal Training Day sadism a year later. With a tough-talking vision to impart lessons in humility and humiliation, Boone fearlessly builds character by tearing down bad habits. His hard-line tactics also fuel compelling tension, opposition and eventual respect with Yoast. (Often asked only to bellow and bluster, Patton displays powerful depth and nuance.)
These coaches also learn the challenge of successfully backing talk with walk, and Titans earns its old-fashioned rah-rah-sis-boom-bah in an ironman-football finale, when the team and town muster strength through unexpected anguish.