HOOSIERS

Director David Anspaugh
Year 1986
Starring Gene Hackman, Barbara Hershey, Dennis Hopper
Rating PG
Run Time 114min
Age Policy

18 and up; Children 6 and up will be allowed only with a parent guardian. No children under the age of 6 will be allowed.

More Info IMDb

“Welcome to Indiana basketball.”

You’d be hard pressed to find a better sports movie than HOOSIERS. It’s the pinnacle of a genre that has always been hampered by having a basic, formulaic outline that most of its films adhere to. This has caused it to run the gamut from unoriginal misfires to genuine, honest, inspired masterworks.

The case of HOOSIERS is strange because it 100% follows the sports movie underdog formula. It’s clichéd, its predictable, its sentimental. Plot-wise there are no surprises. You know exactly where the movie is headed scene by scene, beat by beat, moment by moment.  The best part of the movie is that none of that matters. The heart of HOOSIERS, and Hoosier state native Angelo Pizzo’s script, doesn’t live in the story, but in its great characters and authentic setting.

Gene Hackman gives the most subtle and complex performance of his career as Norman Dale, a mysterious ex-college basketball coach from upstate New York, finds himself in the small town of basketball obsessed Hickory, Indiana. We learn he got the job as a favor from the school’s Principal, an old friend. Now he must turn his handful of players into a winning team if he has any chance of keeping his job.

The setup is simple and the story is anything but original, but the way Hackman plays Dale, a man whose introverted anger signals a troubled past, so perfectly is the key to HOOSIERS success.

There’s also the town drunk, Scooter, played by scene-stealer Dennis Hopper, who Dale tries to help by making him an assistant coach. And the local teacher (Barbara Hershey) who quietly resents her life in Hickory as her larger dreams took a backseat while her ailing father brought her back to town. Then there’s the Hickory players, all seven of them, including Jimmy Chitwood, the troubled and quiet star of the team.

The way Norman interacts with these core characters is the reason HOOSIERS shines. It’s honest and genuine and emotional without forced sentimentality, which is a testament to the cast and Pizzo’s writing.

The craft behind the film is first-rate. Fred Murphy’s cinematography catches the beauty of the rural Midwest in the fall. David Anspaugh, fittingly another Indiana native, made his feature debut and masterfully captures the film’s specific time and place. Jerry Goldsmith’s score, a combination of electronic and instrumental elements, is effective and memorable.

When writing HOOSIERS Pizzo kept a note above his desk that reminded him: “You’re not writing a sports movie.” He was right. On the surface this is a movie about a basketball team trying to win an improbable state championship.

Really, though, it’s about people in this small Indiana town trying to overcome, whether it’s their past, their internal demons, their insecurities. HOOSIERS has always been called a great sports movie, but it’s also just a great movie. (R.J. LaForce)

"'Hoosiers' works a magic in getting us to really care about the fate of the team and the people depending on it...it combines sports with human nature...It's a film that's all heart" - Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

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