Brian's Song (TV Movie 2001) Poster

(2001 TV Movie)

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Comparing this to the original is like apples & oranges..
Because they're so different. James Caan and Billy Dee Williams WERE Pic & Gale. These two new guys, well, they just don't cut it. It'd be like re-casting "Star Trek" with total unknowns as the Enterprise bridge crew. Oh, wait. That already happened, and IT actually worked. This remake, however, didn't.

The main reason the original "Brian's Song" was so good was the way that Billy Dee Williams (Sayers) & James Caan (Pic) interacted, with Pic bouncing racist remarks off Gale left & right. This new, PC version waters the racism down almost to the point of non-existence.

Also, scenes that made the original so funny were completely omitted; for example, early in the film, the Piccolos & Sayers were at a pizza parlor, & Brian described a play gone wrong, ending with, "So, anyway, all the linemen go this way, and it's like I am lookin' at a team portrait of the Los Angeles Rams....Hey, Deacon! Merlin? How's the family, Rosie?" Then Gale pipes up, "It's like, I'm roomin' with a colored player again!" Again, I'm sure this scene was omitted due to its racial undertones, but it took away from the humor of the film.

I found this new version to be much darker, focussing more on Brian's illness and the consequences than on the relationship between he & Gale Sayers, which was the main thing that made the original so special. If you can find the original on VHS or DVD, get it. But, stay away from the remake.
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Get the original, skip the remake
Bud Talley25 May 2010
Pic was a senior at Wake Forest when I was a freshman there. His last year at Wake was one for the ages. He led the nation in rushing & scoring. (As it was put in the original movie: "I mean I led the ENTIRE nation!") He even did the place-kicking.....scoring all 20 points in a 20-7 win over ACC Co-Champ Duke that year. Pic & QB John Mackovic (who led the ACC in total offense that year) led the Deacs to a 5-5 record. That may not seem like much to some people, but Wake Forest had gone 1-19 the previous two years.

Anyway, the original movie is one of the best movies I have ever watched. It is unbelievably heart-breaking at the end....particularly for all of us who knew Pic. And with less than 4,000 students, everyone knew everyone else at Wake least a little bit. I have a DVD copy which I watch from time to time, and which still moves me to tears. I encourage anyone who wishes to see "Brian's Song"...and that should be do whatever you have to do to find the original version, and skip this inferior remake. The original movie portrays Pic & Sayers the way they really were.
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The original is so much better
tornadomediaman4 January 2008
Warning: Spoilers
I've seen both versions and the original is vastly superior. A lot of it is in the details which can never be recaptured. First of all, the original used many actual players, coaches, and team personnel from the Bears. Secondly, they filmed the training camp sequences on location at Rensselaer, IN's St. Joseph's College where the Bears used to train. The office that George Halas uses is the actual office the real George Halas used on campus! They used archival game film - none of this fake announcer stuff and re-enactments. I've heard some give credit to the new version for focusing more on the cancer element of the story. The heart of the story is not the cancer but the friendship between Piccolo and Sayers - a white rural man and a black man fighting for the same job in the 1960's. Some complain about the "racism" in the original version but to ignore that would be to ignore slavery in the Civil War - it's the racial element that made their friendship and their story so transcendental. Let me remind you that a racial comment is not necessarily a racist comment. There's a powerful scene in the original in which Gale Sayers is brought to tears from the laughter when Piccolo tries to call him a "n****r". They both realize the foolishness of the gesture and at that moment, their friendship takes an important step. We can't do that today, because someone might get offended. But if you're really honest with yourself, you can see where a word of such unspeakable hatred actually got turned on its ear and two men saw each other not for the color of their skin but for the content of their character. The new version didn't accomplish anything new - it just changed the movie to a story about cancer. The original is so much more than a football movie as it speaks to some very sensitive racial issues that Americans were grappling with in the 1960s - much of which was still living in defacto segregation.

If you read Gale Sayers' book, I Am Third, which is the inspiration for this movie then you'll agree that the original version got it right.
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Sad: But not a tearjeaker as the TV Classic of 1971!
Paul Manijak6 December 2001
This remake and I have no idea why they remade it, is good but not as powerful and less sad as the original. If ABC wanted to open the story again to a new generation why didn't they just show the classic film. The new version missed too many opportunies to break the audience into tears as the original did and still does so well. Sorry to say to younger generation this version is no classic and if want to view finer acting and have more tears watch the original thou the style of filmmaking has changed...meaning the classic has the 70's look, the 1971 film it still one of the best tv films made... Sorry, it's true.
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still the best!
dtucker8621 December 2001
Maher and Phifer do a terrific job of bringing Piccolo and Sayers to life. Brain's Song was in a way the grandaddy of them all, one of the first made for television movies; and in the eyes of many one of the best. I think it would take a person utterly without feelings not to be moved by the original and this one (surprise, surprise) is just as good. I thought it would be a word by word remake (like that ridiculous Psycho movie in 1998) but this one is different. I guess to be politically correct, it shows more of the relationship between the players wives as well. What makes it a little chilling is the makeup job on Maher as he is becoming sicker and sicker, they pointed out that you couldn't show death on tv that way in 1971. I think that they should have used the exact same music as in the original, it was just too perfect and it would not have mattered (didn't they use the same music in all of the Rocky films?). I hope that we see more of these two young actors as both did a terrific job and I hope they remember them at Emmy time. An added treat, that old raascal Ben Gazzara is on hand as grouchy Coach Halas and he does a wonderful job of theatrical larceny. A story of courage found and the power of friendship, but ultimately a tragedy. A an added footnote, today medical science has made great advances in treating the kind of cancer that killed Brian Piccolo.
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Where'd the music go?
Zalis16 August 2002
Although this remake falls a little bit short of the original in several departments (that others have brought up, such as the casting and the watering down of the racially charged dialogue between Sayers and Piccolo), it stays fairly true to the core story, with some new parts about their families and a more extensive portrayal of Piccolo's illness. "Brian's Song" has often been described as a "Love Story" style tearjerker for guys, and the new version managed to pull this off with me, in the night scene where the two are talking alone on the field, and we hear just a few notes of the Michael Legrand theme from the original. This brings me to my main point. . .why not more of that music? That theme (called "the Hands of Time") is, in my opinion, one of the most poignant and emotionally touching bits of music I know. If one listens carefully, you can hear some examples of derivative composing in movies such as "Lilo & Stitch" where other composers try to cash in on the Brian's Song theme.
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Great film
genius0034530 April 2005
This is one of the very few films that has made my eyes water with tears. The actors are great and deliver their lines with precision and all the emotion they have. Phifer and Maher may not really play football in life, but you wouldn't know it just by watching this movie. The film is also educational, as it teaches about the race boundaries of the time period and also about the medical world at that time. If you enjoyed Friday Night Lights, you'll also love Brian's Song! Anyone who loves a good sports movie should watch Brian's well as anyone who loves a tear-jerker. I rate Brian's Song with a 10 out of 10!
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get the original
steven_winkler611 March 2006
There was absolutely no reason for Disney to remake this movie. They should just re-air the original every year. I am sure the actors in the latter version were good, but the '71 version is classic.

It's unfortunate that Disney did not want to air a film that had some racial overtones, but guess what?? There was a lot of that in the '60s. Brian's Song will always be James Caan and Billy D.

I wish filmmakers would stop re-making classics and just stay with the originals.

People should know that this is not a sports movie. It is a movie with sports as a backdrop.
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As good as original. Let me tell you why
donsturm4 September 2004
I just read all of the comments on this movie and some people did not like this remake. "Brian's Song" is my favorite movie of all time and when I saw the remake, I was impressed. The first part of this remake was word for word to the original but then they started to go in depth. The original 1971 version showed more of the friendship of Brian Piccolo and Gale Sayers, which was great, but the 2001 remake showed more of Piccolo's struggle with cancer. The title of the movie is "Brian's Song" so I thought it was great to show this aspect of his life. If you do what I did and watch both DVD's back to back, starting with the 1971 original, you will get the full story of Brian Piccolo. It doesn't matter that the Michel Legrand theme song isn't featured as much in the remake; this is the story of a man's life, not a song. If you liked the original movie as much as I did, take these comments to heart and rewatch this remake. If you have never seen the original movie, I highly recommend it. Like I said up front, 1971's "Brian's Song" is my all time favorite movie but on a scale of 1-10, I have to give this remake a 10.
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Pointless remake
BDeWittP4 March 2011
When I saw the original Brian's Song film from 1971 with Billy Dee Williams and James Caan, I was entertained and very moved. I didn't see how they could have done a better job with a story like this. As it turns out, I was right, but I never thought it would be a portent of things to come. Remaking a masterpiece like the original begs the question, as Roger Ebert once said "Why are they remaking the good movies? Why not remake the bad ones?" This film is definitely a case in point.

This version is, in a word, terrible. The writing is extremely bad, the acting is awful, and the scenes are dramatically shapeless. Most notably, the film was overtly miscast. The 1971 film was honest, but appropriate about the racial issues at the time, the remake is much too delicate and only seems worried about being politically correct and inoffensive. Sorry, but that doesn't make a realistic portrayal of the time period that this film is trying to illustrate.

In the original, James Caan played Brian Piccolo as a likable, fun-loving, nice, loose guy with a good sense of humor and who loved life. Sean Maher's performance is a disgrace. In his performance, he makes Piccolo look like an annoying, ill-mannered, judgmental jerk. Mekhi Phifer is almost as bad as Gale Sayers, who makes him look like an on screen version of Deion Sanders. As the players in the movie put it, he does indeed come across as "uppity," flashy, and seemingly avoiding contact with others because he thinks he's better than they are, not because he's shy. Billy Dee Williams played Gale Sayers as the man he truly was: a quiet, unprepossessing, gentlemanly, shy type who simply felt awkward around people because he had trouble relating to them. I would've liked to have seen actors with personalities more similar to the characters portray these two players: like Rob Brown as Gale Sayers, and James Vanderbeek as Brian Piccolo.

The coaches are portrayed as stiff, businesslike men with no affability, personality, or compassion for the players. Ben Gazzara is totally unconvincing as George Halas, and looks and speaks more like a priest than a pro football coach. The dialogue is truly insulting because it spells out what we already know about the players. Most of the time, the characters sound like actors reciting their lines and forcing information on the audience, instead of people who are speaking conversationally and expressing their true feelings.

When Joy Piccolo says to Brian, after seeing Gale's acceptance speech for his rookie of the year award, "He's not arrogant, he's shy," it's useless information we already know. Another example: when Brian and Gale are running together to help rehabilitate Gale's injured knee, they're both expressing their worries, strengths, and weaknesses, most notably Gale's anxiety about life after football, and Brian's aspirations about when he'll actually be able to make his contribution to the team. These things were wisely never expressed in conversation in the original because the writing was intelligent enough to allow the audience to figure it out for themselves, without unnecessary discussion. Good films never use dialogue when they don't need to.

Finally, the beautiful instrumental musical version of the song "The Hands of Time" elevated the mood and poignancy of the first movie, which the remake could've used more often. Why didn't they use the music again in more of this movie? This is an example of how music can magnify the illustration of a scene and ultimately enhance a story.

This movie left a lot to be desired for, but a story as good as the first one needn't have been remade in the first place. I would recommend the 1971 film as a true timeless classic and one of the best sports movies of all time. The remake was just a bad idea that should have never happened.
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Just one question: Why?
john_baur15 August 2003
The original was the best football movie ever. It also was the one movie that made it all right for guys to get weepy (just TRY not to sniffle during the "I love Brian Piccolo" speech) and it featured actual game footage of Gale Sayers and Brian Piccolo. The new version adds nothing.
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Wonderful movie.
jenleerose13 August 2004
I have yet to see the original version of this movie, but as a stand alone, this movie was amazing. While I realize that the actors may not have the physical attributes of the real life persons, they're acting makes up for it. I thought the casting decisions for the leads was wonderful and Sean Maher and Mekhi Phifer put their hearts into their roles. I've seen the synopsis for this movie sometimes includes "4 hankies needed", but you will need more than that. From what I have read on websites, the movie follows the real life story of Brian Piccolo pretty closely including statements and speeches that were made. It has a great intermixing of news reports and events of the times to show younger generations what the times were like. In present day, it's hard to see how the decision to have Piccolo and Sayers become roommates is hardly front page news. I think this would make a great educational film for schools or other children's programs.
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Powerful story
joerau19902 December 2001
This is one of the most powerful movies I've seen in a long time. I never saw the original version, but heard about it from my parents. Now I know how they felt when they first saw the story. I'm glad that my generation now has the opportunity to know the immense courage and heart of a departed hero.
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What the.....?
juliafwilliams10 June 2003
More than 30 years ago, the original Brian's Song not only brought James Caan and Billy Dee Williams into the forefront of their careers, it became the standard by which all disease-of-the-week tearjerkers are measured. It was an entertaining film worthy of all awards bestowed upon it. To this day, my heart and soul melt over the talents not only the Messrs. Caan and Williams, but also of Michel Legrand for composing a memorable theme song.

This remake, albeit a little more explanatory, does not, I repeat, does not match the quality of the movie that was first telecast that fall day in 1971.

There's only one Brian's Song for me, and that one stars James Caan and Billy Dee Williams.

Maybe there should be a movie about remake-itis.
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leolowe19 January 2002
I hate it when movies, especially about sports, are careless in their facts. In a scene early in the movie, the coaches made mention of trips to Houston, Atlanta and Dallas. At that time, Houston was in the AFL and Atlanta didn't yet have a team. Come on, get it right.
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Great Story, But Underwhelming Movie
SeriousJest18 October 2013
This one gets by with me based on the awesomeness of the true NFL story. I also like that it effectively portrayed some issues without over- explaining them, like the racial undertones. Other than that, I was severely underwhelmed. First, the cinematography was extremely low- budget. I haven't seen the 1971 original, but I'm guessing there's not much of a difference in camera quality. Also, the acting from just about everyone, even Phifer during his "shy" scenes, seemed forced. Both Phifer and Maher were pretty charismatic, at times, however. And although I know that this movie isn't really about football, they really skimped on the football scenes! I don't know what they thought they were doing with that blurry first-person view, but it wasn't working. I have a feeling that if I was to see the original flick, I would downgrade my rating of this remake.

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Not as good as the original, but probably the next best thing.
rostlyn22 July 2012
I just discovered this film on Netflix instant viewing and decided to give it a shot. I was introduced to the original film in high school when our gym teacher showed it in class, and I'm eternally grateful for that... the original version of Brian's Song is an amazing film and you should check it out if you get the opportunity. (It happens to be on instant viewing at the moment as well.) At first I didn't think I was going to like the film since it seemed so different from the original; it was hard to get used to the new actors as Pic and Sayers since I had James Caan and Billy D. Williams in my head as owning those roles for so long. I'm glad that I gave the movie a chance, though, because by the end I was absolutely loving it.

There are a number of differences between this movie and the original, though I don't think that the remake suffers for them. The tone of this film is much more serious and toward the end is much more focused on Pic's illness, but I think that this serious tone helps to show that even someone who jokes around and takes life as lightly as Pic can be overwhelmed. It helps to add humanity to the film which it would have otherwise lacked, and the actors all do a wonderful job of bringing the characters and their pains to life.

Some reviewers and commenters have said that this remake shouldn't have been made and that ABC should have just shown the original again to introduce it to younger audiences but I disagree. All too often, older movies just don't hold up well in the eyes of a younger generation. I know when I was young I'd much rather watch a new movie than some old film that came out when my parents were young; I think that this remake did a good job of honoring the 30th anniversary of the original while introducing the story to young people who might not have known about it otherwise. Once they've seen this film it might be easier to introduce them to the original as well.

I scored this remake 8 out of 10 because I liked it but not as much as the original movie. The original would be a straight 10.
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A worthy Remake
ArizonaKnightWolf16 October 2011
I, for one, found this version of BRIAN'S SONG better than the original. While the original is well worth watching, and deserves its reputation as one of the best MADE FOR TV movies ever made, this one is at least it's equal. In the approximately the same length of time, it develops the friendship between Brian Piccalo and Gale Sayers a whole lot better, and the impact of Brian's illness is much clearer here. When I saw Ben Gazzara was starring as Coach Halas, I had my doubts, but Gazzara played the role well. Paula Cale, one of most underrated actresses around today, plays Joy Piccalo with such emotion and feeling that you can actually get caught up in the story. The friendship she develops with Linda Sayers, played by the beautiful Elise Neal, is really believable and much more detailed than in the original. Sean Maher's performance as Brian Picallo is just as good, if not even better, than James Caan's portrayal in the original. That's not to say that Caan didn't do a good job, by Maher just shows the frustration and pain Piccalo was going through.

If I have one complaint about this version, it would be that it is too politically correct. In the 1971 version, the use of racial epithets, such as the N-word, really shows the racism prevalent of the times. Here, the most racist comment is when Pic is reading a hate letter that refers to Sayers as a "Darkie". While not wanting to focus on the racism, that was part of the reason Picallo and Sayers developed such a close bond as friends, being the first black and white roommates in the NFL. We should not try to cover up or forget our racist, oppressive past. In the 1960's and 1970's the USA was going through a much needed change and struggle with racial identities and roles. This movie should have shown a clearer representation of that.

Still, over-all this was an excellent movie, and I highly recommend it, not just for Bears fans, or Football fans, but for fans of great and inspiring entertainment.
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Very outgoing a big deal about friendship!:-)
rocio_0112 December 2001
I think Brian's song is the best movie about friendship anyone could ever watch.Brian and Gale thought that they didn't have nothing in common it just shows that they did all along.It has a good point on life and the meaning of friendship.
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There's been enough tears, no more, league rule remember?
lastliberal1 February 2009
You know I like sports movies even when I don't like the sport; The Flying Scotsman is one example. I expected more from a football movie. Maybe it was the fact that it was PG that took the edge off; it just didn't seem to have a spark that made what should have been a great movie.

Maybe I just got tired of the "poor me" song that Brian sang for over half the movie. This was before he got sick. He just kept whining about others being better than him in high school, college, and the pros. That's life, Brian. There is always going to be someone better.

Sean Maher and Mekhi Phifer did a good job as Brian Piccolo and Gale Sayers, but neither set any standard for excellence. They always just seemed to be speaking their lines instead of feeling them. I did like Ben Gazzara as Coach Halas. Quite frankly, the best actor in this film was Paula Cale as Brian's wife Joy.
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one of the best heart-wrenching stories I've ever witnessed
creepy_stalker_chicken25 November 2005
Warning: Spoilers
It takes a lot to make me cry - I'm one of those people who can sit through a sob story with barely more than a lump in her throat and then shrug it off a few seconds later. Not with this movie though, because even though I finished watching it about half an hour ago, the thought of it brings tears straight back to my eyes. This is such a brilliant film about courage I think, more than the friendship by itself, and how that courage sustained a friendship most people wouldn't have through such an ordeal that simply didn't seem like it would ever get better.

Sean Maher, is, without a doubt, brilliant in this film. In the beginning of the film I thought "yay, hot guy to tide me over in case this film is crap" but as it progressed, I was steadily becoming more aware of him as a character - a wholly believable character and by the end of the film I was crying for him, for his friendship, and for life in general. He had me so convinced that I can't help but be amazed. Although I knew what was coming by the time the film reached it's climax, it still shocked me because I was so distraught.

I recommend this film to EVERYBODY, no matter what your film choices are. You just can't help but be touched by this film, and it's characters. It's not hard to believe that these characters are based on real people, and that the situations they face are real too.
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Re: Dumb and Lazy.
tlaycock-36 December 2003
The writer stated that Atlanta did not have a football team in the NFL. Atlanta had the Falcons in 1965. They started to play in 1966. The statement about Houston was meant to be about the attitude of people in general.
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Very Good Movie-Touching Story
Terry Heederik4 December 2010
This movie is based on the true story of two players, in particular, who played together for the Chicago Bears in the late nineteen-sixties. One player was white (Brian Piccolo) and one player was black (Gayle Sayers). These two individuals both were running backs and they soon became the NFL's first racially integrated roommates. They eventually became very good friends and knew each others family well. One of these two players was injured and didn't know if he would ever play again - well, his friend stepped in and gave him all the motivation needed to get back on the field. The motivator friend later became very ill and his roommate was by his side through it all.
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