Director: Sunu Gonera
There’s a reason that movie studios keep reaching into our past for inspiring tales of underdogs overcoming tremendous odds to succeed and that’s because, despite the formula, these films act as an antidote to the sometimes overwhelming desperation and depression of films that hit a little too close to home. Movies where people rise up instead of ones where they are cut down act as medicine for the soul and often they’re found in tales of athletes and have become so popular over the past three decades with hits such as Rocky and Rudy that Walt Disney Studios has been steadily releasing several over the past several years including Remember the Titans and Glory Road which not only evoked the underdog sports formula in tales of truth but also dealt with important issues such as tolerance and racial equality.
In 2007, Lions Gate Films released another film in the same mold as the aforementioned works that slipped through the cracks due to a poor marketing strategy that had most filmgoers overlooking the otherwise critically well-received film Pride starring Academy Award nominee Terrence Howard. Howard, in one of the first of his several great roles in ’07 including turns in The Brave One, The Hunting Party and August Rush, stars as Jim Ellis, a talented college swimmer whose dreams were cut short due to intense racism that destroyed an important meet. Despite graduating with an impressive baccalaureate degree in mathematics, Ellis has struggled to find his calling, neither fitting in with the predominately white scholarly world of narrow minded employers or sometimes in his own African-American community as well. After failing to earn a prestigious position at the white, wealthy Main Line Academy, Ellis takes a job with the Philadelphia Department of Recreation in the 1970’s, packing up a soon to be closed center in a troubled neighborhood. Once at the center, he butts heads with proud, defiant and challenging janitor Elston (a superb Bernie Mac) who despite his tough exterior, is passionate about the youth in his community and soon, inspired by the youth who spend their days outside the center, Ellis reopens the pool and begins to coach the kids into champion swimmers, ready to take on Main Line Academy and their arrogant Coach Bink (Tom Arnold).
There are some predictable obstacles and a subtle beginning of a flirtatious love interest for Ellis with likable budget minded councilwoman Sue Davis (Kimberly Elise) but in spite of some of the contrivances, the film works well, thanks to a genuinely moving story and an emotionally gripping turn by Howard who, given his role in Pride and the other films of ’07 should be well on his way to becoming one of our new talented leading men. Howard succeeds in securing our empathy because of his innate ability to radiate a sense of justice and integrity which is an admirable skill that cannot be taught. Engaging and inspiring—the kind of film that should delight young audiences whose parents grew up with Hoosiers and one that may earn even more attention now that it’s been put into regular rotation on premium cable, Pride has more than enough pride, determination and resilience to go around.