The Express: The Ernie Davis Story

April 6, 2012 at 8:48 pm Leave a comment

As a sports fan, I’m kind of ashamed that I didn’t know the Ernie Davis story before watching this movie. Ernie Davis was the first black man to win the Heisman Trophy and lead Syracuse to their only National Football Championship. The movie showed a lot of what Ernie had to endue in his time, the late 50’s to early 60’s tragically he died of Leukemia before he could take a snap for the Cleveland Browns. The Browns retired his jersey number anyway. He was billed as the next Jim Brown. The world will never know if he could have lived up to that title in the pros.

At two hours, The Express is a long sit. They go with the bio-pic approach of laying out someones entire life in a movie. I prefer the kind of bio-pic that focuses on one part of a persons life. When they skip around the early parts of his life and influences, the movie really loses any sense of focus. The interest part of the movie is what Ernie had to endue as a minority on the all-white Syracuse and a football player during segregation. They played the Cotton Bowl against Texas in Texas to win the National Championship. Along the way, Ernie witnessed some pretty horrible things that were the realities of the South at the time. Texas basically mugged the guy during the game while racist referees completely ignored what would amount to assault if it was done off a football field. Ernie winning the Heisman Trophy felt like it should have been the logical conclusion of the movie. However, the movie continues for another half hour to cover the tragedy of how Ernie died young before he could play for the Cleveland Browns. The movie really ends on a down note which is unfortunate because much of the rest of the movie is uplifting. 

Maybe I have watched too many bio-pics about people overcoming racism but much of this movie felt melodramatic.  There are moments where Ernie, Ernie’s brother, Ernie’s grandfather, Jim Brown, and others make speeches that they probably didn’t make in real life. It’s not so much that they are poorly written speeches, they are just a bit melodramatic and generalized. I feel like The Jackie Robinson Story did it better. While there may not be palm trees in Montreal, one thing that movie did better than this movie was give Jackie an opportunity to speak through his actions. Jackie was a quiet, classy man who let his play on the field do his speaking for him. In The Ernie Davis Story, they decide to go with long speeches about the issues of racism.The on-the-nose dialogue didn’t give the actors a chances to speech through actions instead of words. 

The Express is a well made movie. The movie looks good, was edited well, and was completely made. The running time is what really keeps this movie from being highly recommended. About the only laughable thing in this movie is that when Syracuse goes to play Texas, all the racist white people in Texas wear cowboy hats. I have been to Texas and I didn’t see one person wear a cowboy hat. I doubt they did in the 60’s either. There are a lot of good moments and overall it’s an uplifting movie. I would say if you can endue the long running time, it’s worth a watch. 

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