Inspirational sports movies are a dime a dozen. Inspirational sports documentaries, like "Heart of the Game," come along a little less often. Often, it's easier to make the story more inspirational by recreating the "truth" but the story behind "Heart of the Game" is so powerful it scarcely needs rapper Ludacris's surprising subtle narration to make it work.
The documentary follows the Roosevelt Roughriders, a Seattle high school's girls basketball team, and their unorthodox coach Bill Resler and the star player Darnella Russell. The movie was made over seven years beginning when Resler, a professor at University of Washington, takes on a coaching job at Roosevelt High School, although he lacks any experience.
Resler looks nothing like an aggressive, hard-riding coach and some of the fun of the movie is watching him tell his girls to "Kill!" and "Draw blood!" But the girls believe in what he is saying and it shows as the Roughriders make it all the way to states in their first season.
Enter Darnella Russell, an inner-city African-American player, who transfers to Garfield because her mother thinks it will be better for her.
Here the film splits into two films: the story of the Roughriders and the story of Darnella and Resler. While both are interesting and dramatic stories, the focus on Darnella and her fight to stay an eligible player after a pregnancy takes her out of school takes away from the team as a whole for much of the middle of the film — until the end when the state championship is back in site.
Director Ward Serrill, does an impressive job of combining seven-year's worth of footage into a compelling story, but at some points seems to miss the chance to get key players' opinions about what is going on. It's an odd decision that leaves you wondering what is going on in the girl's heads at points.
By the end of the film, the story has you on the edge of your seat with sweaty palms, cheering on these girls as they take on their rivals in the state championship.
Even if you're not into sports, the pride, strength and values that are clearly instilled in the girls through the game are enough to make you realize that these values are not only the heart of the game, but the heart of the movie.