The Great Debaters Reviews
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.
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.
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.
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!!!