Tough but not unfair; a very well constructed look at an NFL player living on the very edge of the dream
Kahlil Bell was once the hottest rookie out of the college game and indeed in 2009 his first ever carry in the NFL (for the Bears) broke the record for the longest first carry in NFL history (72 yards). Since then though he has been signed and waived many times by different clubs – the Jets (twice), the Bears a second time and Green Bay. This films joins him in his own personal off season and follows a man determined to keep keeping up no matter what and who wants to make his sporting dream happen.
I wonder if Bell knew the tone of the film that was being made here? I'm not suggesting he was duped or anything like that, but it is noteworthy that the film is very much at odds with the positive spirit of Bell. Again this is not to say that the film is negative or down on Bell, but just that the contrast between goal and reality is really stark. Let me not muddle myself here – I really liked this short film. Essentially it is a documentary that looks at an NFL player trying to get his career going despite the fact that his last few years have only been temporary contracts which went nowhere. He is not really equipped for anything outside of sport, nor does he want to give up on the dreams he has to be in the NFL. In a frank voice-over, he is clear on that but at the same time one could imagine another film taking the same subject and emphasizing the hope and hustle rather than anything else.
Oppenheim instead faces reality (albeit with a bit of nudging flourishes to help on the way). The film plays to the big sporting hopes and dreams, using game footage well to get the viewer drawn into the excitement, however at the same time we see Bell sleeping on a thin mattress on the floor of a flat filled with "in- transition" possessions, certainly not living the highlife he perhaps once did. The stat about x% of professional athletes filing for bankruptcy after x many years of leaving the sport is well known and I was glad this was not trudged out (not that it applies here), but rather it is a more sober film because it focuses on one person and lets us see his drive, but also the reality – one doesn't want to be the person to be down on his dreams, but the viewer is left to wonder what Bell will end up doing.
The construction and delivery of the film is impressive; a collage of images and a very tight bit of editing to bring the voice-over of dreams and hopes into contrast with reality. At times it perhaps overplays this (the superman doll is perhaps a bit too much) but mostly it is restrained and, although it is tough on Bell at times, you could never say it is unfairly so. Technically the film is very impressive; very sharp, very good sound and plenty of good shots all edited together with purpose and vision. It doesn't overegg the cake too much, but it does show the counter to the assumption that getting to the NFL is "making it", as we see the challenges and reality of the "non-all star" situation through Bell.
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