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The Express: There’s So Much More than Just a Football Game
The face of American sports would not be what it is today if it weren’t for the huge contributions of many real sports’ heroes. In true American tradition many movies are made to honor these heroes lives and acheivemeents. The Express is a movie based upon the true story of Ernie Davis. The movie depicts Ernie Davis’ extraordinary life as a gifted African-American athlete and a reknown football hero. Ernie Davis was portrayed by Rob Brown in the film. Ernie Davis was the first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy in the year 1961.
Ernie Davis grew up in Pennsylvania in the late 1940s. This was an era where racism and discrimination was widespread. Ernie’s chidhood days were not as colorful as some children growing up in his time period. He lived the early days of his childhood together with his grandfather, until his mother returned to their residence and decided to raise Ernie in Elmira. They lived in New York, but never lived a life of economic advantage.
Ernie Davis’ football career started when he enrolled in Small Fry Football League. His remarkable performances on the field as a running back eventually led him to meet Syracuse University Football head coach Ben Schwartzwalder, played by Dennis Quaid. Schwartzwalder was looking for running back to use in place of one of his absent team members. Schwartzwalder discovered Davis’ impressive skill when Schwartzwalder was able to view footage of Davis playing for Elmira Free Academy. Davis was successfully recruited and enrolled in Syracuse Unviersity.
Since Ernie joined the team, he immediately excelled. His extraordinary talent led the team to victory upon victory over throughout various games. One of the most remarkable years of Ernie’s career was in 1961; this was the year he won the Heisman Trophy. Ernie continued leading his team to victory while maintaining his ability to excel; due to his dilligence and perseverence Davis received the opportunity to play proffessional football in the National Football League (NFL). Despite receiving these honors and accomplishments, Davis still faced two major challenges. He faced daily racism both on and off the field, and his health condition was worsening. These issues hit him hard in what should have been the prime in his life.
In this movie, the football game is portrayed to the audience as just a mere game as was expressed by Ernie Davis himself. There is a subtle reflection of what matters most when someone participates in an organization such as a sports team – that it is the value of playing for a team that is more important than simply winning games. Amy Biancolli, in a 2008 Houston Chronicle states that, ‘‘It's more than just runnin' a ball. It's not just a game any more. In Texas, it's a religion (Biancolli n.p.).
Although there were a lot of themes that can be taken from the movie, depending on ones perspective, there is an overpoweing theme of victory over adverse conditions. It showedn how a young man can rise above the setbacks he has in life by not being intimated or obsessed by racism. The movie also showed how Ernie’s in the football arena serves a symbolic victory from an era where black players were despised and unwelcomed.
As the growing civil rights movement divided the country in the '60s, Davis became a symbol for achievement that transcended race. Refusing to flinch from others' prejudices, he achieved all his goals—until he faced a challenge that would make most men crumble. He joined the ranks of black pioneers by teaching a generation tolerance, inspiring a movement that smashed barriers on and off the field (Samdahl n.p.). The last line he uttered in this movie sums it all up, when he said, ‘‘Most people think my life has been all about football. I've even thought that myself. But football is just a game. What matters is what you play for. Sometimes when the game is close and eveything is on the line, that's when you forget the croud and the noise. That's when it's just you against somebody else to see who is the better man. That's what I like about the game. Because at that moment, you are friends and you are enemies and you are brothers” (IMDP, 2015).
What adds to the uniqueness of the film is the relationship Ernie had with his coach Ben Schwartzwalder. As Quaid subtly shows in his performance, the coach had a certain mental distance from African-Americans. He promised Ernie that he would develop his awesome ability, which he in fact did. Among the highlighted development of Scwartswalder’s attitude was getting to know Ernie in the process. Because of the established friedship between the two, they both became better men. Although the film highlights football, relationships were a deeper subject (Ebert n.p.). The sport taught these two men that although they often clashed mightily, both could, and did, learn from each other. It was from his coach that Ernie learned all about football, and how he became more and more excellent over time. On the other hands, it was Ernie that taught Schwartzwalder the meaning of true victory. Other significant characters of the movie were Omar Benson Miller and Charles Dunton. Miller was Ernies’s African American friend on the team who had been his personal advisor. Dunton was Ernie’s grandfather, who raised Ernie during his early childhood. These two men were the ones who were there when he experienced hostility (Ebert n.p.).
It was April of 2006 when the filming began at area locations in Chicago. Included in the setting were mainly different schools and universities. The reason for this was that the producers of the film wanted to portray a kind of movie that best describes the era where Davis belonged to. If they had to take away some flowers or other present ornamentals or even modern trash bins, they did so in order to reflect the proper time period. They wanted to make it as close to the real scenario before, which they did. There was thorough research that was conducted in order to recreate the uniforms during that period. Stadiums were also taken into consideration. They reached the point of creating a stadium which no longer exists. Ann Hornaday of The Washington Post, stated, ‘‘"The Express" (whose title derives from Davis's nickname, the Elmira Express) takes on even deeper meaning. Filmed with pulverizing accuracy, they bristle not only with physical action but also historical and political symbolism’’ (Hornaday, 2008). The movie succesfully ecapsulated a time period in which African Americans were just beginning to make their mark in the sports arena, therefore the symbolism in the movie is even more important. It is important that those who have never experienced blatent racism can view this movie and experience empathy for Davis and what he enured to be the ber
The sound track or the music used in the movie were composed with the use of various musical instruments. The instruments include the trombone, violin and cello to name a few. Original songs were also written by different musical artists, and some lines were used in between dialogues. The songs and musical backgrounds were appropriate for every scenes music was used for in the movie. Moreover the film lighting creates the right atmosphere in the film although if we are to compare it with today’s films, it has its ways to improve and work on so as its editing.
There is no doubt why the movie won the ESPY Award in 2009 as the Best Sports Movie. With an excellent story, soundtrack, actors and more it is obvious why this movie is such an inspiration. It is a reality that this movie will continue to inspire this generation and future ones. Davis’ journey as an athlete and as an individual is truly remarkable and something we could always learn a lesson from. It is a source of inspiration which gives hope and reinforces many people’s hopes for themselves. Afterall, rising above adversity and negativity is possible no matter what issues one runs into as Ernie Davis has shown through his life and story.
Biancolli, Amy. (2008, October 9). “The Express: The Ernie Davis Story.” Web. 31 May
Ebert, Roger. «The Express.» 08 October 2008. RogerEbert.com. 31 May 2015
IMDb,. 'The Express (2008)'. N.p., 2008. Web. 3 June 2015.
Hornaday, Ann. "The Express": A Tale of Football and Awakening.» 10 October 2008. The
Washington Post. 31 May 2015
Samdahl, Erik. «The Express - Movie Synopsis & Plot.» FilmJabber. 31 May 2015