Rated PG; Directed by Gary Fleder; Starring Rob Brown, Dennis Quaid, Darrin Dewitt Henson, Omar Benson Miller, Charles S. Dutton
The Express is another in a long line of movies about athletes overcoming odds to achieve something remarkable. Some of these movies manage to achieve mediocrity; other movies create something special on the screen. “The Express” is not one of those amazing, successful movies, but it certainly rises above mediocrity. It helps that the story is true. The character of Ernie Davis really did achieve something amazing before illness led to a too early death for such a supreme athlete.
The movie especially works due to the casting. Rob Brown (Finding Forrester) makes Ernie Davis a sympathetic character as we see him start his college football career at Syracuse, New York. It’s the late 1950s and “colored” players are not the most welcome players on the field. Yet Ernie Davis had so much talent that nothing could stop him. His coach, Ben Schwartzwalder (Dennis Quaid), must also adapt to the hazards of having a star player that is black, and he must even change his own thinking.
As a biography, the movie works well at taking us back to what it was like for Ernie Davis. Sure, we get the football movie clichés, but it doesn’t get in the way of the story. The acting is good and the story inspirational.
The movie works compared to the many mediocre attempts, because of the biographical aspects. Sometimes the movie rushes over things in order to fit Davis’ story into two hours and a romantic relationship gets short shrift. Yet the movie pays off our interest in what happened to Ernie Davis and how he broke racial barriers.