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Runnin' Rebels of UNLV (2011)
*** 1/2 (out of 4)
Very entertaining documentary from HBO Sports taking a look at Jerry Tarkanian's arrival at UNLV and everything he was able to accomplish there in nineteen years. The documentaries main focus are the various battles that the school had with the NCAA but also that magical year where they ended up finally winning a National Championship only to quickly have everything fall apart. I was just old enough to where I started paying attention to basketball so this championship team is one that I'll always remember. I thought this documentary did an extremely good job at showing the highs and lows of this program, which certainly isn't an easy thing to do. I think a filmmaker could look at this school as something pure evil while someone else could really show how great their accomplishments were. What makes this film work is that it takes the middle ground and looks at everything openly and honest. I really liked that they didn't try to cover up the various run ins with the NCAA while at the same time not taking away from what these teams did. This is especially true when we take a look at the championship team and have Greg Anthony talking about how bad the team felt that they were being labeled as "thugs" and other such terms. Tarkanian himself is here talking about his entire run at the school and we get interviews with several players, members of the media as well as people like Jimmy Kimmel and Mike Krzyzewski. Fans of college basketball and especially UNLV should really enjoy this documentary as it perfectly shows what was going on during this era.
HBO Sports, an old name in the burgeoning sports documentary genre, has chosen a ripe fruit for inspection in the scandalous run of coach Jerry Tarkanian and the UNLV men's basketball program of the 1980s, but have also checked their objective responsibilities at the door. In a brief sixty minutes, the film breezes through Tarkanian's arrival on campus and earliest NCAA violations in the late '70s, revels in the university's brief heyday ten years later, eagerly excuses the school of all responsibility and gallantly blames everyone from a new school president to the investigators themselves for daring to follow through on repeated threats to police the program. Were the Rebels unfairly singled out by a vengeful good ol' boys association, as Tarkanian and the filmmakers so frequently imply? Perhaps. Was the team completely without blame? Certainly not. But by failing to even attempt to represent both sides of the story, the impression I was left with was a simple one: where there's smoke, there's fire.
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