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The Express (2008)

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A drama based on the life of college football hero Ernie Davis, the first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy.


Gary Fleder
1 win & 3 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Rob Brown ... Ernie Davis
Dennis Quaid ... Ben Schwartzwalder
Darrin Dewitt Henson ... Jim Brown
Omar Benson Miller ... Jack Buckley
Nelsan Ellis ... Will Davis, Jr.
Charles S. Dutton ... Willie 'Pops' Davis
Justin Martin ... Young Ernie
Justin Jones Justin Jones ... Young Will
Nicole Beharie ... Sarah Ward
Aunjanue Ellis ... Marie Davis
Elizabeth Shivers ... Elizabeth Davis
Clancy Brown ... Roy Simmons
Danny McCarthy ... Bill Bell
Regina Hoyles ... Sister
Chelcie Ross ... Lew Andreas


This biopic focuses on the relationship of Ernie Davis (1939-1963), a gifted African-American athlete, and his coach from 1958 to 1962 at Syracuse University, Ben Schwartzwalder (1909-1993). Schwartzwalder recruits Davis with the help of All-American running back, Jim Brown. The civil rights movement is gaining steam; Davis experiences prejudice on campus, in town, and on the field, sometimes from teammates. How he handles it and how he challenges Schwartzwalder to stand up for his players provide a counterpoint to several great seasons that lead first to a national championship and then to the Heismann Trophy. Written by <jhailey@hotmail.com>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


He changed our country... one yard at a time.


Biography | Drama | Sport

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated PG for thematic content, violence and language involving racism, and for brief sensuality | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »


Official Sites:

Official site


USA | Germany



Release Date:

10 October 2008 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

The Express: The Ernie Davis Story See more »

Filming Locations:

Berwyn, Illinois, USA See more »


Box Office


$40,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$4,562,675, 12 October 2008, Wide Release

Gross USA:

$9,589,875, 2 November 2008
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

SDDS | DTS | Dolby Digital


Black and White | Color (Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


The scene where Ernie Davis is introduced on the field during a Cleveland Brown's home pre-season game was filmed at Wrigley Field in Chicago. The uniquely styled rooftop lights and press box are visible behind Rob Brown. See more »


Before the 1961 Heisman Award ceremony, stock footage of Broadway includes a movie marque with Stalag 17, released in 1953. Some Manhattan movie theaters regularly screen popular older films. See more »


[watching Ernie practice against high school players]
Jim Brown: He's too fast for these kids.
Ben Schwartzwalder: He's too fast for anybody.
See more »


References Stalag 17 (1953) See more »


Got My Mo Jo Working
Written by Preston Foster
Performed by Muddy Waters
Courtesy of Geffen Records
Under license from Universal Music Enterprises
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

An uplifting and inspiring tale.
9 December 2008 | by Jamie WardSee all my reviews

Sending off the film in a monologue which encapsulates his entire story, lead character Ernie Davis (Rob Brown) concedes to the fact that he doesn't quite know how to end his story; it's a desirable lack of focus for a man who doesn't necessarily want to tell a structurally sound story, but a powerful and important message about his struggle instead. Yet this sometimes off balanced narrative unwittingly carries through onto this, the big screen adaptation of young Ernie Davis' story, and the movie as a result is worse off, no matter how faithful it may adhere to the source material which borrows largely from the main character's real life biography. The Express for all intents and purposes retains the important elements of Davis' short but inspiring tale, backing up the movie's hard hitting themes with solid heart, soul and passion; yet lumbered with a force-fed implementation that sacrifices the stories emotional integrity for mawkish melodrama, the feature too often looses its footing when it really counts. Nevertheless, with some fitting performances, stark photography and an endlessly inspiring story of unity, social injustice and change, The Express still manages to overcome its weaker moments to make a greater whole.

Told through the eyes of up and coming black American football sensation Ernie Davis, The Express delivers a two punch game that fights on two fields which turn out to be one in the same. Ostensibly the feature is about Ernie's battle to the top of the game back in its earliest days when to be black was looked upon as something of a weakness or automatic disqualification from being taken seriously. On this purely face value level, the movie does well; it has the building structure and bubbling tension needed to create the necessary highs and lows of a typical, engrossing sports movie. Watching Ernie is like watching a legend, and that's exactly what it should be like. Sure enough the man is more or less untouchable in the movie's first two thirds, but showing his weaknesses on field would be superfluous at best. Instead the script leaves much of Davis' conflict and hardship to be faced off the pitch, even when he's playing on it. At its heart, The Express is a moral tale of people coming together and letting parts of themselves go that maybe they hadn't thought through quite thoroughly enough; at its core, The Express is about racial discrimination. Counterbalancing the much more visceral aspects of the feature with this emotive, heart felt drama; the movie achieves both a sense of wonder and relevancy that still rings true to this day.

Despite the script's well intentioned spirit however, all does not go well when it is finally given transition to the big screen. Director Gary Fleder and composer Mark Isham too often inject the feature with an overbearing, sometimes sickening level of sugar coated melodrama. From the sweeping strings of Isham's sentimentally ridden compositions to Fleder's insistence on emphasising start contrasts between the stories dark and light moments, The Express sometimes boils down to mere caricature that belittles the ideas that the script is trying to get across. Thankfully though, all is not lost in either of their abilities; Isham does far better when scoring for the movie's faster moving segments and Fleder gets some hard hitting and poignant performances out of his main cast. The movie's central performances from Rob Brown and Dennis Quaid are nothing of any remarkable significance, but they serve their purposes well and do justice to the characters that they are playing; sure enough Quaid can be his withdrawn, wooden self from time to time, but his presence is a fine mixture of warm and cold, enough to make the relationship between the two main characters compelling to watch develop.

As engrossing as this can all be though, it's oft hard to swallow some of what the movie tries so hard to press upon you; it's a film that tries to raise questions whilst simultaneously answering without being too cynical, and for the most part, does that well enough, even if it is all a little too dependant on sucrose for its own good. So while watching The Express can feel a little like getting force-fed an over-sized, over-iced and over-baked cake to chow down on for two hours, the end result is at least in itself, satisfying. Telling a story of perseverance against the most uncomfortable of challenges whilst at the same time incorporating themes of friendship, family and even a little football into the mix, The Express is a movie that is more about the substance beneath rather than the sometimes troublesome crust that encompasses. It takes a long time to get there, and arguably ends far too late, but for anyone looking for an uplifting and inspiring tale of one man changing the course of history forever, then The Express should do well enough.

  • A review by Jamie Robert Ward (http://www.invocus.net)

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