The Great Debaters - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

The Great Debaters Reviews

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½ May 6, 2016
The acting is top-notch and the human drama exemplary, but it's those boring debate sequences that drag it down a bit.
February 18, 2016
84%
Saw this on 18/2/16
Thanks to its cast and its plot points, The great debaters hits more than it misses however, it takes the familiar route of over utilizing its racial themes, especially in the end. It's a great statement on racism, I agree, but that doesn't mean it has to use racism on every aspect of the film, its just like how the blacks are still not able to give up racism as a steamy subject when its intensity has fallen a lot, which is also why films like these are still made. Another notable thins is that whenever Denzel is onscreen, the movie is on a soaring high while his absence in the climax scenes (meaning, he has nothing to do in the climax) really kills the pleasure of the film.
½ October 9, 2015
Enjoyable drama directed by and starring Denzel Washington following a debate team in an African American college in 1935. Very well made with good performances. Worth a watch!
July 2, 2015
This is my kind of movie. A terrific story, fantastic acting, educational, great costumes and characters to which I quickly became attached. I was glued to the screen. I felt the constant fear that blacks felt in Texas in the post slavery, pre-civil rights era as well as the slow progress of equality. This is a feel good story where the upbringing, personality and perseverance of each character plays an important role in the team work and outcome of the story. If you like a good historical story with a justified outcome, this is a movie for you.
February 24, 2015
I think our whole debate class should go see this! its gonna be awesome!
½ January 13, 2015
A solid movie with solid performances. Fits in with similar "based on true story" pieces.
Robbanflix
Super Reviewer
January 2, 2015
Denzel Washington never fails his role and not this time either along with the other casts .. all did a superb job. This is a drama movie when i really like to watch them , well made with a great script. True story about a black debate school team back in the 30s fighting for their rights and cause with the red thread "racism" mainly against other schools around the country.There have been many similar flicks and this one is one of the better and really worth seeing if u are looking for a good drama.
December 7, 2014
Debating, despite not being as glorified as sports (which are also wholesome) and suffering the mockery of such shows as "Futurama", is ideally a wholesome and respectable activity. This is primarily because it requires its participants to be informed, organized and sharp; even defeat is quickly eclipsed by the fulfilling sense of having grown in the capacity to engage in strong conversation. In selecting the story of the debating team from Wiley College as the basis, Denzel Washington manages to convey this well, but also takes things further by adopting a relatively unique approach to the age old theme of making a difference in a world percolated by prejudice.

As has been pointed out by quite a few, "The Great Debaters" seems to follow some typical formulas found in certain genres. The idea of a team forming in opposition to the prejudices that surrounds them, ultimately facing off against the "Big Guy", is also found in "Remember the Titans" and "Glory Road". On the other hand, the grim realities of racism were explored in the excellent "Boyz N' the Hood". In the end, this film is not as idealistic as "Glory Road" or grim as "Boyz N' the Hood"; it doesn't have to be. It utilizes familiar formulas in the most superficial manner, being not so much about debating as it is about people who debate to demonstrate their worth in a time when misfortune has way of following them around.

Denzel Washington and Robert Eisele have done a commendable job in portraying the process of debating. Essentially the entire process is shown, from research to predicting the opposing side to articulating the claims. It's really engrossing to watch the members of the debate team develop their skill and confidence over the course of the movie, as well as be treated to some of their coaches training methods. I particularly liked that dialogue he would have them recite at the edge of a lake to get them in the right mindset. Much like the interviews in "Frost/Nixon", the debates themselves carry the tension of a boxing match, in which every successfully spoken claim hits just as hard as a physical blow.

The greatest achievement of the film lies in its treatment of the characters. A common mistake in this genre is the habit of overly glorifying its key players. This doesn't necessarily distract from the overall message, but does tend to rob some of the realism required of such a drama. The members of the debating team are wonderfully realized as distinct, smart individuals that are not exploited for cheap sentimentalism. Each one has a reason to try out for the debate team and, for the most part, we come to understand how their behavior has been molded by the world around them. Perhaps the most remarkable example of this is Henry Lowe. Within the first act, frankly, you hate the guy. He is depicted as an uncommonly learned womanizer who manages to win the affections of the only female on the debate team, by what seems to be nothing more than cheap flattery. Later, however, we learn that he developed these bad habits as a means of numbing himself from the horrific things he tended to witness. By the end of the story, he has discarded these tendencies in favor of a better way. It's quite rare that my opinions of an individual evolve so much over the course of a movie.

The other characters are portrayed just as well. Denzel Washington does his usual stern work as the coach Melvin Tolson, a poetry professor with a secret political agenda. He is regarded as a bit of a radical, but he is an educated and civil one who understands the proper way to induce reform. With a fascinating blend of wit and frankness, Washington presents us a man, who understands the difficulties faced by his ethnicity, is not afraid to confront his students with that reality and is determined to arm them with the tools to overcome those difficulties. Denzel Whitaker is also very convincing as James Farmer, a smart 15 year old whose life seems to be a constant struggle to understand why everything is so unideal. He kind of reminds me of the titular character in "Lucas". Interestingly, the only problem here is Samantha Booke. She is the only female on the debate team, which carries much potential, and she is shown to be just as capable as any of her teammates. The issue is that we don't get much of an idea of her personal life or background, and as a result she is left feeling a little less real than the others. It's unfortunate that the pivotal point in her growth amounts to a mere love triangle, which is a pattern that modern movies really need to eschew. Even so, a lot can be said about her decision at the end of the matter. I won't spoil it, but I will say that it is infinitely more satisfying than the route often taken.

Much more can be said about the film's boldness in acknowledging the social conditions of the time, but James Berardinelli discussed that in his article far better than I can, so I will leave it at that. Suffice it to say that this has become a largely overlooked gem. Though able to stand with some of the finest examples in its genre, very few seem to bring it up in conversation anymore. I suppose that's just the direction things have taken. Even so, I certainly recommend this one to those seeking a frank, honest tale that respects its characters and may even leave you a bit more motivated in becoming informed.
November 23, 2014
This is a great movie with wonderful performances from Washington (one of his best I have seen too) and both Whitakers. Kimberly Elsie and Jurnee Smollett were also great. Washington did a great job also directing this and I would like to see him make some more movies. It started off fairly slow but it gets really good once the debates start.
½ October 21, 2014
An interesting take on the Civil Rights Movement with the core of the conflict being shown through the words of the debaters themselves.
September 29, 2014
These are some of the greatest debates I've ever seen and they are what I would reccomend watching if you want to watch some hardcore "proper" arguing. It also ha some romance and drama so it's a joy to watch.
September 15, 2014
A typical "black is beautiful" Oprah-approved inspirational tearjerker. Decent execution does not excuse a movie from having an overdone theme.

Speaking as an African-American, being black used to be and still can be difficult. Nevertheless, every movie can't be an inspirational tale about proving white devils wrong.
August 23, 2014
LOVED LOVED LOVED THIS MOVIE
½ June 25, 2014
Denzel once again excels in his role because you know he's DENZEL WASHINGTON but the movie around it while inspirational has too many cliches for it to deserve higher than a 3.5 star rating. (In my opinion.)
May 2, 2014
BE A DEBATER, DON'T BE A HATER

The Great Debaters, a high-concept movie, produced by Oprah Winfrey, and directed by Denzel Washington, the auspicious actor known for his strict, prestigious acting in his previous movies, notably in his role as Herman Boone in "Remember the Titans", where both main characters deal with racism. As a result of this, he received two Golden Globes awards. In this movie he plays Melvin Tolson, the teacher of a debate team. To improve his role, Washington interrogated Tolson's son along with the rest of the cast (Forest Whitaker as James Farmer Sr., Nate Parker as Henry Lowe, Jurnee Smollett as Samantha Booke, Denzel Whitaker as James Farmer Jr. and Williams as Hamilton Burgess) who interviewed actual people. The Movie flourishes down in the depths of the deep dirty south -- The Heart of Texas in a tough period of Racial Segregation, there exists "Wiley College", an all black college. That is why, I believe this movie debates with the fate of the Racial South!

I personally think this movie is simple with 3 major plot points that lead up to the impacting climax. First, was the scene at Tolson's house with copious students trying-out the debate team. Only 4 are permitted to the team namely Henry Lowe, Samantha Booke, James Farmer Jr. and Hamilton Burgess. Second, was the scene when James Farmer Sr. hits a white man's Pig and he is forced to pay $25 dollars as per the demand of the owner of the animal. Mr. Farmer pays $17 dollars from his tuition fee. This later came up during an argument between Mr. Farmer Sr. and his son. The third plot point that ultimately lead up to the climax was the scene showcasing the debate team and their experience seeing a black man being lynched. This later changed their views and made them successful later on. At last, came the climax that was very nice! In my experience, I think this movie shows how this debate team overcome intense obstacles to reach the goals they set.

This movie sets forth many different themes that can be used in real life. One of the major themes taught by Tolson are "Defeat can make you stronger". This was showcased with Samantha Booke against Oklahoma City where they were at the brink of defeat. She managed triumph with great determination and grit them despite their previous loss. Although the many themes of this movie may seem cliche or mediocre comparing it with many other movies, In truth, this movie creates a new opening to these moments and makes them feel special. That is why, this movie shows and feel very worth watching and not just any other movie out there. As you can see, those are my thoughts on the movie overall and its theme.

My name is Mohamed Ali and I watched this movie in my 9th Grade English Class. I am reviewing this movie as an assignment from my teacher. I think this movie was very nice, but is only appropriate for 13 years and older (PG-13). I would honestly give this movie 7/10, nice and well put together. I feel this movie had determined characters that never gave up no matter what obstacle they overcame. They fought for their prerogative as black people and showed Civil Disobedience. Ultimately, the great debaters have changed debating history for ever. Simply Put, the movie sadly came to an end. It will be in my memories FOREVER!!!
March 6, 2014
For all of its fine moments of acting, the picture never rises above it's own formulaic script. It's "Hoosiers" with lesser underdogs but larger moral lessons, and the film itself fails to convince the audience nearly as well as it's own protagonist's real life successes. There isn't anything revolutionary happening here.
½ February 24, 2014
let me start of this review by saying Denzel Washington like some of his movies doesn't make it about his character, he focuses more on the story of the characters and his directing talents are shown within the film. he gives the movie to the actors that are strategically placed within the film that really carry the story that makes it uplifting
½ January 30, 2014
Fueled by Washington at his fiery best and a couple of other good actors, plenty of engaging dialogues and an inspiring story, this is a triumphant feel-good tale that lifts you and makes you applaud the movie just like a good point made in a debate.
December 26, 2013
Rather generic, but still a worthy film. True story about an anti-capitalist teacher in the Deep South who leads his students to beat the Harvard debate team
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