AfriGeneas at the Movies
[Movie Review:] The Express
Movie Review: The Express
Published August 20, 2008
The Express is the story of Ernie Davis (played by Rob Brown), the first African American to win the Heisman Trophy. Davis was actually given the moniker of "The Elmira Express" since he was from Elmira, New York. Though based on a true story, the fact that the film's title has been modified to make it more marketable is indicative of the type of glossy Hollywood sports movie Davis' story has been turned into. The movie is a paint-by-numbers translation of that Hollywood standard, the "young athlete with loads of promise who meets a tragic end" — with a small measure of race politics thrown in. All of its potential edginess has been glossed over in favor of rousing action on the gridiron, and the movie suffers for it.
Beginning with Davis as a stuttering youth (Justin Martin), growing up in a small coal town outside of Pittsburgh with his grandfather, Pops (Charles Dutton), he moves to Elmira with his mother, where he joins a small-fry football league. Eventually he is actively being sought after by 50 colleges, no small feat for a black man in 1959. But it isn't until coach Ben Schwartzwalder (Dennis Quaid) and football legend Jim Brown (Darrin Dewitt Henson) come calling that he decides to join their team, the Syracuse Orangemen. As a sophomore, Davis leads the team to an undefeated season and a win over the #2 ranked Texas Longhorns at the Cotton Bowl. Despite facing racism at nearly every point in his life, he eventually becomes the first African American to win the Heisman Trophy and goes on to play for the Cleveland Browns. His career is cut short, before he ever plays one game for the NFL, when he develops leukemia in 1962.