In the late '50s and early '60s, at the peak of the civil rights movements, Ernie Davis was one of the few African Americans playing varsity football. The Express, starring Rob Brown (Take the Lead, Coach Carter) as Davis and Dennis Quaid (The Rookie, Any Given Sunday) as coach Schwartzwalder, tells his story.
After growing up in poverty, Davis was scouted to play for the Syracuse University Orangemen, where he faced more hardships. Davis was not just a football player like his white teammates. He had bottles thrown at him, suffered beatings from his opponents and teammates and unjust calls from the referees and coaching staff. With perseverance and determination, Davis fought for equality and respect, becoming one of the best runningbacks and first African American to win the Heisman Trophy in 1961. By not following the unspoken rules and being the best possible athlete, he broke the racist barriers of that time. Tragically, before he could play professionally with Cleveland, Davis was diagnosed with leukemia and died at the age of 23. By overcoming adversity and setting records that still stand today, Davis proved that achievement transcends race.
Everyone loves a good sports movie, but it is hard to classify this movie as a sports movie because it is more than that, but still falls short as a stand-alone documentary. Sure, having Allan Graf, who has directed Any Given Sunday and Friday Night Lights, direct the football scenes helped the movie-- they are action packed, edge-of-your-seat scenes that make you want to jump up and tackle somebody. It is what is not happening in between the football that is disappointing. There is not enough emotion or passion, just Dennis Quaid's ugly mug. The Express does the job of characterizing Davis, but falls short on showing the impact of his efforts on the game of football. Rob Brown portrays the stubborn Davis well, but somewhere along the way, the characterization falls flat and Quaid is the same character as he is in most of his movies-- the old guy who loves sports. The writers and production team had the components to make a great movie-- good plot line that tugs at the emotional strings, a setting in the civil rights movement and a sport-- but didn't deliver, despite these advantages.
Overall, The Express is enjoyable because of action-packed football, a good looking Brown on screen 95 per cent of the time and a good ending, but don't go expecting more than a good sports movie, unless you want to be thoroughly disappointed.