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Spike Lee's He Got Game is a beautifully shot and well-executed
exploration of the role that the sport of basketball plays in the
relationship between a father and his estranged son. At the outset,
having not seen very many other Spike Lee movies, I didn't really know
what to expect or what to compare this film to. However, I was
pleasantly surprised at the overall quality of the plot and the
cinematography that composed this film. Furthermore, I really liked the
definitive sense of Spike's style that was quite apparent throughout.
Told through flashbacks that reveal the plot throughout the course of the movie, He Got Game is about Jake Shuttlesworth (Denzel Washington) and his basketball-star son, Jesus (Ray Allen). Jake is in jail under mysterious circumstances, yet can get out of jail if he is able to convince Jesus to choose to play basketball at a specific school, namely the state governor's alma mater. Released for a week in order to complete the daunting task, he hounded by probation officers, and does a lot of things that he couldn't do in jail, such as have a light dalliance with Milla Jovovich's slightly-unnecessary prostitute character, Dakota Burns. Denzel, as usual, excellently handles his role as the intense father, and is utterly believable in both his emotion-laden and his violent, angry scenes.
Ray Allen's portrayal of Jesus is also an interesting and well-played usage of the strong dichotomy of masculinity in the sport of basketball. He very clearly shows the purer and more tender side of his character through his love for his younger sister, whom he lives with and takes care of. Yet he is torn between that and the glittering, vice-infested world that his ability at basketball brings him ever closer to. At times he does even succumb to the cloying ploys of others, and there is a particularly raunchy scene as evidence of this. Allen carefully and quietly allows the audience to see the conflicts between sensitivity and machoism that exist in his life, as a result of basketball.
Probably one of the more interesting ways in which this film is set up is through the use of comparative shots that allow the similarities of Jake and Jesus's actions to show. Jesus tries so hard to distance himself from his father, yet the shots and the camera framing show just how alike they both really are. I also particularly enjoyed the use of color and contrasts that appeared throughout. For instance when Jesus and his errant girlfriend LaLa (Rosario Dawson) are talking at the end of the film, both their faces vividly reflect a shade of jealous green from the amusement park lights.
Overall this film is a very good spin on the basketball sports movie, yet with no huge stadiums or big games to win the championship, like what usually constitutes a basketball movie. Instead, the two main characters go through much self-analysis and introspective maturing, something that is quite rare for sports-playing men in film to do. I liked the strong use of color and the well-framed shots, and especially enjoyed Denzel Washington's brooding performance. A classic, must-see movie for anyone interested in cinematography or film.