Hoosiers is clearly a film more for American audiences. Due to the history behind the real life story of 1954 Milan High School team and the fact that sports is such a key part of the American way of life, there is clearly a patriotic feeling that comes with the experience. However, audiences outside of America may not feel the same glory from the experience.
Basketball isn't my favourite sport, but I'm an avid lover of playing it and watching a good sports film so Hoosiers really should have been the kind of film to entice me. On a stylish level it certainly boasted a sense of appeal as the rural scenery provided a nice backdrop to the story and the basketball games themselves are capture very well. Although the cinematography could stand to take a step back to emphasize the large scale of the court and the many players contributing to the game in their own manner, the camera tracks the movements of the characters very well and emphasizes the intense physical contribution they make to the film. The use of slow motion is also effective because it is carefully moderated and used at key moments in the basketball game to build atmosphere and depict the energy of the basketball players. And to support this all is a powerful musical score composed by Jerry Goldsmith. The music is subtle but very inspired, and it has feelings of Vangelis to it through its use of synthesized techniques employing a patriotic feeling. It is even key during multiple scenes off the court because it keeps the atmosphere active with a feeling of sentimentality and positive energy. Jerry Goldsmith's musical score is a very spirited element of Hoosiers, and it joins the ranks of Dennis Hopper in being the other thing in the film to earn a deserved Academy Award nomination.
Story-wise however, Hoosiers isn't a groundbreaking experience. Hoosiers adheres very heavily to the sports underdog formula, one which has been circulating cinema for generations since it was popularized by Rocky (1976). I've seen the formula in countless shapes and forms, but Hoosiers does not rest as one of the better examples in my opinion. Those who identify more closely with the characters may find themselves enticed by the film, but I found myself struggling to assert any close connection to anyone depicted on screen. One of the issues is the fact that Hoosiers is so focused on the larger sports ambitions of the story that it neglects the need for any real character development. The only character in Hoosiers who is given any real consideration is Shooter Fletcher, the subplot of the story. Protagonist Norman Dale and his basketball team are given archetypes where they are the underdog fighting against adversity to propel themselves to victory without any real individuality about them. Even though Norman Dale has an elusive past of his own in which he supposedly struck one of his former players and spent time serving for the Navy there is never any expansion upon this or an exploration of the man's struggles to contain his anger. The protagonist has no characterization to him; he is merely a formulaic creation of every sports movie ever, and Hoosiers fails to explore the relationship between him and his team which ultimately keeps the film on a shallow level.
Shooter Flatch is given preferential treatment as a character since we see him outside of the basketball games and in his own world. It's made clear that he struggles with alcoholism and his relationship with his son, and as we see him attempt to integrate back into the basketball scene there is genuine development that goes on in the story. This makes him the most interesting character in the film, and its precisely this treatment which helps to propel Dennis Hopper to deliver such a brilliant performance. It's not hard to see why Dennis Hopper earned an Academy Award nomination for his performance in Hoosiers. The man is recognized throughout his career mostly for portraying extremely intense characters, as far back as Easy Rider (1969) and in the numerous decades following. Even in the same year as Hoosiers he portrayed iconic gangster psychopath Frank Booth in Blue Vekvet (1986). Hoosiers is a performance like none other for him; one where he loses grip on himself so that he can focus on humanizing a character instead of playing one. You can tell from very early on that he makes an ambitious effort to convey the weaknesses of town drunk Shooter Flatch. The first sign of it comes from the vulnerability he conveys through the stare created by his eyes as he converses with Gene Hackman; a stare which reflects the insecurities and pessimism which weighs down on his spirit. Later on we see him in hospital, hanging on to life by the skin of his teeth as he struggles with hypothermia. Dennis Hopper plays the man with some of the most humanity he has ever put into a character, and it surely sets the standard for acting in Hoosiers.
Gene Hackman also delivers an effective leading performance. Though the script's characterization is hardly rich, his performance is one which effectively mixes passion and subtlety. He spends most of the film approaching his part with restraint, focusing less on the intensity of his line delivery and more on conveying through small physical movements that he is really involved in the material. His effort is one which capitalizes on the natural charms of the actor, and the way he approaches every cast member with a respect for what they do but an ambition to bring the best out of them.
Barbara Hershey delivers a compelling performance as well, and Maris Valainis has extremely impressive basketball skills on display.
Hoosiers has some entertaining basketball sequences, a spirited musical score and a strong performance from Dennis Hopper to boot, but the reliance on formula and shortage of character development leaves implied audience patriotism to ensure the film actually entertains.
In all sports, we see what transpired in this film in order to reach that dream. Players and coaches had to move egos aside to keep the dream alive. That is how you create the winning formula, which is exactly what the Hoosiers did. Their success exploded as they turned their season around, winning game after game. Coach Dale finally starting getting the support he needed, and the Hoosiers started to turn their season around, with the crowning event of the dream; hoisting the trophy in the air. The team did this perfectly by throwing in all the elements of winning "The Dream", knowing that deep inside they had what it took to win
This is a film that will inspire all the athletes out there, young and old, veteran and rookie, and anyone wanting to live the dream. It's not always an easy road, as Coach Dale's team has shown us. This movie solidifies that anything is possible for anyone to achieve, with hard work and a little luck.
Hoosiers is a must watch for all ages, maybe inspiring the next underdog athlete to live "The Dream".