By Kevin Wilson: Freedom Newspapers
When I got an invite to an early-morning “Believe in Me” screening, I envisioned a consequence-free movie review.
If I say it’s great, I give extra motivation to an eastern New Mexico crowd that doesn’t need motivation to see it.
If I say it’s a piece of trash, I may get a nasty e-mail or two (“Speaking in my capacity as movie extra No. 174, you’re an idiot.”). However, my words won’t stop other movies in eastern New Mexico, because film-making is a business and if it’s $1 cheaper to shoot here, Hollywood’s coming back.
No need to send an e-mail, because “Believe in Me” is worth your business despite its low-budget limitations.
The movie starts in the fall of 1964, with the brash, young Clay Driscoll (Jeffrey Donovan) ready to take over the Middleton High boys team. When he arrives, he’s told dismissively by town big-shot Ellis Brawley (Bruce Dern) the school’s hired a better coach for the boys and he’s got the girls squad.
It’s no fairy tale start for Driscoll and the Cyclones — he seeks other jobs in the state, parents balk at his coaching style, and the school board refuses to put money into the program.
A talented junior varsity squad fuels a turnaround the next season, and community support follows all the way to the state championship game.
The movie was made for $8 million, about what Ed Norton commands by himself. Robert Collector had some limitations, and no viewer will miss them. Different basketball teams have the same home courts, and some scenes felt forced to move the story along.
As far as the formulaic sports movie goes, it fits the clichés. The team goes through hard times, there are montage scenes leading to the turnaround, and one player has an outside conflict — Frances Bonner, who gets married and has a child at 17. Her involvement with the team later becomes a point of conflict between Driscoll and Brawley.
The movie’s ending, while uplifting, gives a feeling the audience is only getting the first few chapters in the full story of Jim Keith, the Oklahoma coach Driscoll is based on.
Would I recommend this movie to a friend in California? Maybe, because it’s at worst an average sports movie and the adaptation of the “Brief Garland” book is a story worth telling.
For somebody living in Clovis and Portales, I think the movie is definitely worth seeing, because the local connection is undeniable. Rock Staubus Gym and the Ram Athletic Center are huge parts of the film, and former Portales Schools
Superintendent Jim Holloway is surprisingly good as the parent of star Dorothy Thompson.
A prevailing thought may be, “If this is our gym we’re seeing, why can’t the Cyclones be our team?”
There’s no reason they can’t, and there’s no reason eastern New Mexico can’t call this movie its own.
Three stars out of five.