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Gary Fleder
Dennis Quaid, Rob Brown, Darrin Dewitt Henson, Omar Benson Miller, Nelsan Ellis, Charles S. Dutton, Justin Martin
Writing Credits:
Charles Leavitt, Robert Gallagher (book)

Witness the inspirational true story of a real American hero. Rising from the humblest of beginnings, Ernie Davis (Rob Brown) overcame impossible odds to become the first African-American to win college football’s greatest honor – the Heisman Trophy. Starring Dennis Quaid as the hard-nosed coach that helped drive him to greatness, The Express is a powerful story of triumph on and off the field that will have you cheering again and again!

Box Office:
$40 million.
Opening Weekend
$4.562 million on 2808 screens.
Domestic Gross
$9.589 million.

Rated PG

Widescreen 2.40:1
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 130 min.
Price: $29.98
Release Date: 1/20/2009

• Audio Commentary with Director Gary Fleder
• Deleted Scenes
• “Making History: The Story of Ernie Davis” Featurette
• “Inside the Playbook: Shooting the Football Games” Featurette
• “From Hollywood to Syracuse: The Legacy of Ernie Davis” Featurette
• Previews


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Harman/Kardon DPR 2005 7.1 Channel Receiver; Toshiba A-30 HD-DVD/1080p Upconverting DVD Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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The Express: The Ernie Davis Story (2008)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 15, 2009)

Few words cause me more dread than “inspired by real events”. Many movies use “real events” as a launching point for pure nonsense accompanied by an alleged sheen of reality, so I often don’t look forward to them. Nonetheless, even with that terrifying phrase on the cover of the DVD, I decided to give 2008’s sports/civil rights drama The Express a look.

We open in 1949 to meet a 10-year-old Ernie Davis (Justin Martin). He struggles with a stutter but shows special athletic skills. When his mother (Aunjanue Ellis) takes him to live with her in Elmira NY, he joins a peewee football team and blossoms into a terrific young running back.

From there we jump ahead a few years and see Jim Brown (Darrin Dewitt Henson) turn into the top pick in the NFL draft. This leaves a void at running back for Syracuse University. Ernie’s (Rob Brown) turned into a top-notch player, so Coach Ben Schwarzwalder (Dennis Quaid) uses the Brown connection to recruit him.

Although Brown set a precedent for a talented black player at Syracuse, that doesn’t mean Ernie doesn’t experience difficulties. Racism remains live and well, so that creates challenges for the star runner. Nonetheless, Ernie strives to overcome these odds and also become the first black player to win the Heisman Trophy.

Usually movies like The Express come produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and released under the Disney umbrella. In fact, if you didn’t look at the credits, you’d probably believe that was the case, especially since Gary Fleder’s direction has that Bruckheimer fell all over it. Bruckheimer may not be a director, but most of his movies show a certain style; Bruckheimer may not be involved in this flick, but it sure feels like he produced it.

You’ll have to decide whether or not that’s a good thing. For me, I think The Express is a derivative flick, but that doesn’t make it unsatisfying. To be sure, it boasts a nice story at its heart. As I alluded at the start, I don’t know how factually accurate the tale is, but it comes across as believable.

Within its neat ‘n’ tidy framework, that is. Just like something from Bruckheimer, Express gives us a professional piece of work that follows an eminently predictable path. At no point will anything here surprise you, as it adheres to tried and true formulas.

Actually, Express does violate one typical rule. Usually movies like this focus on the white character even though that role should be a significantly smaller one. Happily, Express concentrates on Ernie’s side of things and only includes the coach as a supporting part. Quaid gets a lot to do as the coach, but he’s not the main character, and I’m happy about that.

Overall, however, the film follows the standard framework - and that’s not a terrible thing. The Express knows where it wants to go and what it wants to be. It never pretends to be anything more grandiose than it is: an inspiring story with roots in fact. The Express does nothing to reinvent any wheels, but it entertains.

The DVD Grades: Picture B/ Audio B/ Bonus B

The Express appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.40:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. While not without concerns, the transfer usually looked fine.

Sharpness came across fairly well. Some wider shots tended to be a bit iffy, but those failed to create prominent distractions. Overall, the image was but light edge enhancement showed up through the film. Source flaws caused no concerns, as the flick remained clean and fresh at all times.

Like virtually all period pieces, Express went with a stylized palette. The flick cast much of its material in a golden hue that gave it a vintage amber tone. Within that range, the colors looked solid, as various reds and blues still came out well. Blacks seemed deep and firm, while shadows provided nice clarity and delineation. This was a generally positive presentation.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of The Express worked fine for the material. Though it had its moments, the soundscape didn’t provide a lot of pizzazz. Music demonstrated nice stereo imaging, and football games added a decent sense of place. This was a forward-oriented mix that used the surrounds in a moderate manner.

Audio quality seemed satisfying. Speech always appeared warm and natural, with no edginess or other issues. Music was lively and full, as the score showed solid reproduction. Effects also boasted good clarity and definition, though they didn’t exactly push the auditory envelope. Overall, the soundtrack was perfectly acceptable for this sort of flick.

We find a handful of extras here. An audio commentary from director Gary Fleder launches things. He provides a running, screen-specific look at editing and cinematography, cast and performances, the script and story structure, the film’s use of music, historical liberties, period details, cinematic influences, sets and locations, and shooting the football scenes.

Across the board, Fleder provides a nice discussion of his film. He digs into a good mix of elements and doesn’t seem afraid to mention flaws. I like his tendency to critique his own work, and he makes this an informative, fairly objective take on the production.

Three deleted scenes fill a total of seven minutes, 37 seconds. These include “Texas Gas Station” (2:02), “Sarah Discovers Bloody Cotton Balls” (2:06) and “Ernie in the Hospital, Weight Training, and Locker Room” (3:29). “Gas” just reinforces all the racist attitudes seen throughout the movie; it feels redundant. “Balls” adds a little evidence of Ernie’s growing illness, but we already get a good feel for that, so it also seems unnecessary. Finally, “Room” does more of the same in terms of Ernie’s sickness; those pieces also don’t add anything.

We can watch these with or without commentary from Fleder. He gives us some details about the scenes and lets us know why he cut them. Fleder continues to present honest and useful thoughts.

Four featurettes follow. Making of The Express lasts 13 minutes, 58 seconds and presents info from Fleder, production designer Nelson Coates, director of photography Kramer Morgenthau, football coordinator/2nd unit director Allan Graf, and actors Dennis Quaid, Rob Brown, Charles S. Dutton, Nicole Beharie, Geoff Stults and Darren Dewitt Henson. “Making” looks at the project’s development, cast and performances, Fleder’s work on the set, locations and period challenges, cinematography and visual design, and shooting the football sequences.

While it never becomes an especially deep program, “Making” manages to cover the basics in a decent manner. Of course, since Fleder touched on so much in his commentary, some redundant material appears. Nonetheless, “Making” adds nice shots from the set and fleshes out matters in an acceptable manner.

During the 13-minute and 18-second Making History: The Story of Ernie Davis, we hear from Brown, Fleder, Quaid, Dutton, Ernie’s uncle Chuck Davis, Syracuse teammates Jerry Sobol, Ger Schwedes and John Brown, high school classmate Bob Hill, Syracuse players Floyd Little and Jim Brown, sportscasters/Syracuse alumni Bob Costas and Dick Stockton, Ben Schwartwalder’s wife Reggie, and Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell. “History” offers a general overview of Davis’s life, with an emphasis on his football career. I’d like more depth to the show, but it allows us a decent glimpse of the fact behind the movie’s tale.

Inside the Playbook: Shooting the Football Games runs seven minutes and features Fleder and Graf. As we see shots of the footnall action, Fleder and Graf provide details about the specifics. This becomes a nice examination of the sports segments.

Finally, From Hollywood to Syracuse: The Legacy of Ernie Davis fills five minutes, 19 seconds with comments from Fleder, Costas, Little, Coates, Jim Brown, Syracuse alumni Vanessa Williams and Angela Robinson, Syracuse professors Peter Moller and Stephen Masiclat, Syracuse students Lisa Coombs, Tinuke Oyefule, Lauren Levine, Meghan Lisson, Michael Odafin and John Troynousky. We learn a little about shooting at Syracuse, but mostly this feels like a long ad for the university.

A few ads open the DVD. We get clips for Flash of Genius, the three Back to the Future flicks and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. No trailer for The Express appears here.

At no point will you find anything surprising, daring or creative about The Express. Nonetheless, the movie does what it needs to do as it turns into an enjoyable – if predictable – inspirational sports story. The DVD offers fairly good picture and audio as well as a mix of fairly interesting extras highlighted by a solid audio commentary. Don’t expect anything revelatory here, but The Express provides a satisfying flick.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.5 Stars Number of Votes: 12
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