While competent and well put together, The Express doesn’t feel like a movie about Ernie Davis, but one about segregation and racism in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. By the time the film is over, you’ll wonder about who Ernie Davis was, aside from the man who stood up for his rights. The same can be said for the other characters in the film, all who feel underdeveloped and unexplored.
Rob Brown stars as Ernie Davis, the college football star whose life was cut short by Leukemia before he could play his first professional game. The movie briefly delves into his childhood inspirations before moving onto his football life, the most prolific time he lived. It’s a strong basis for a character study, but never feels developed. It’s confusing if this is supposed to be a movie discussing the civil rights movement, or a movie about Ernie Davis.
Dennis Quaid is Coach Schwartzwalder, the standard football movie coach. He’s a far cry from the hardened man featured in Any Given Sunday. There’s mention of his family during a dinner scene, yet they’re never on screen or spoke of again. While it could be said they’re irrelevant to the story, Schwartzwalder is built as (and was) an influence on Davis. He also sees the racism, and surely it effects him in some way emotionally affecting his home life. That never comes through.
Gary Fleder brings some flare to the film, utilizing filters to give the movie an appearance of actual footage. It works, especially during the football scenes which are unremarkable visually without these tricks. The use of slow motion, as it seems to be in every sports movie, is overdone and irritating. It takes away from the flow of the scene, not to mention the performance of the actors who are going full force during their performance. It’s fine once in a while, but here it’s constant.
Credit goes to the script for not taking an emotionally involved road for it’s ending, instead relying on a celebratory note in the end. Express gives Davis his due, choosing not to rely on the mans death to pull the audience in. It’s unexpected and welcome, a worthy tribute for the first black Heisman winner.
From a sports movie standpoint, this is unremarkable, standard, and even generic. From a biographical view, Express is focused on what feels like a small portion of the man’s life. This is hardly a terrible movie, but one that seems as if part of it has went missing.
Express is everything a modern film should be in hi-def. Contrast is superb, with deep blacks and flawlessly calibrated whites. There’s wonderful dimension to every frame. Universal has thankfully kept the film’s grain structure intact, which is light for most of the film but spikes when the footage is meant to look like old film stock. Detail is wonderful and never wavers. Shadow details are also superb. Sharpness is high throughout. Nitpickers will notice some minor aliasing on car grills, but it’s hardly worth docking this phenomenal transfer all the credit it’s due. Video
Express also delivers a wonderful, immersive DTS-HD encode that delivers that “in the stadium” feeling. The football scenes are a spectacular showcase, delivering on the big hits while consistently surrounding the viewer with crowd noise. Even non-action oriented scenes have a nice subtlety to them, especially from the start. Bass is always deep, especially as a train rumbles by the frame. The soundtrack, particularly the booming orchestrated theme, delivers fully. Audio
Extras kick off with a solo commentary from director Gary Fleder, who continues discussing the film through seven minutes of deleted scenes. 50th Anniversary of the ’59 Championship Game goes deeper than the title suggests, discussing the entire season featured in the film with interviews from players and staff. There’s plenty of actual game footage during this 16-minute featurette.
A standard making-of doesn’t excite, while Making History tells the Davis story with interviews from family and friends. It’s short at 13 minutes and padded with film footage, but a short history that gets the job done. Inside the Playbook is a feature with commentary from Felder and football coordinator Alan Graf as they discuss how the football scenes came together. Legacy of Ernie Davis is a short piece on what the man left behind after his death, and BD-Live support is generic with nothing on the film itself. Extras