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3 reviews, 2 user ratings

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Basket, The
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by Jack Sommersby

"Not Exactly a Slam Dunk, Yet.........."
3 stars

Formulaic and imperfect, this period drama manages to entertain more often than not.

With four screenwriters accredited, The Basket is a shambles in the storytelling department -- it's a miasma of haphazardly developed story threads which never succeed at congealing into a satisfying whole -- yet it's the damndest thing in that it manages to entertain even when you're perfectly aware of its faults. It's got heart, spiritedness, and an obvious desire to please, so you can be somewhat forgiving of it because there's rarely an instance when you're bored or inclined to look away; even when the plotting turns trite you're likely to be so wrapped up in the characters' emotional plights and the film's innate goodwill that surrendering to its charm is just as easily done than said. The Basket is wildly uneven and edited so imprecisely at times that I thought the director, Rich Cowan, had turned his head to cough on several occasions while supervising the final shaping of the film in the cutting room -- it comes off as a fragmentation of an artist's vision rather than a fully realized one. Yet, oddly enough, even when the dramatic and story arcs make themselves known as being extremely limited, I was surprised at discovering how much I cared about how things would turn out in the end. You find yourself more interested in the "how" than the "what," which is quite remarkable considering just how predictable everything plays itself out.

Peter Coyote (one of our finest American actors) stars as Martin Conlon, the sole schoolteacher of the small farming community of Waterville, Washington in 1918, a year when America is at a time of uncertainty. World War I has broken out, America is at arms with Germany, and a good number of its youngfolk are being shipped back home alive, alive but permanently injured, or in body bags. The film is largely seen through the eyes of Helmut Brink (Robert Karl Burke), a ten-year-old German orphan who, with his older sister Brigitta (Amber Willenborg), has relocated to Waterville and is put under the guardianship of the local minister. They both speak English and are soon attending public school, which doesn't exactly sit well with the community (most of whom still view Germans as perpetrators of violence against their countrymen without recognizing there are innocents among that nationality -- like the children who've had no choice in their lives thus far). Helmut had to first endure a detention camp in the States, just as the Japanese did after the attack on Pearl Harbor, so it's a whole new beginning when he's afforded freedom in the quaint tranquility of Waterville. But prejudice is inflicted upon him by some of his schoolmates, and the only healthy outlet he finds is in the extracurricular activity of what's known now as "basketball." Conlon is from Boston, and in addition to the German opera he plays for his class on a daily basis -- he feeds passages of it to them to sustain their interest -- he instructs the young men on the rudiments of the game, which culminates in a five-hundred-dollar tournament match with the defending Spokane Spartans, where it's hoped that the prize money can be used for a down-payment on a state-of-the-art reaper that presumably can help bestow prosperity upon this economically challenged town.

With its screenplay-by-committee, it's little wonder that The Basket shoots off into various story tangents without satisfyingly developing any of them. There's the local boy who falls in love with Brigetta (much to the dismay of his bigoted father -- who, naturally, learns to tolerate and accept his German neighbors), the teacher who's revealed to have a shady past, a persistent farm-equipment salesman who might or might not have the townfolks' best interests at heart, and, naturally, an unimpressive group of sportsman who're going to have to work darn hard to defeat their rivals in the big match. The film is derivative of past derivative (though first-rate) period dramas, 1986's Hoosiers and 1993's Sommersby, but it shares a few of their attributes: a commanding lead performance (Coyote brings quiet dignity to the role of Conlon); a lucid conviction of time and place (the period details aren't stodgy like in a Merchant-Ivory production); and a believable depiction of small-town dailiness (you sense you're eavesdropping on the lives of everyday people). Oh, there are some considerable quibbles. The basketball-training scenes come off as moot and are poorly directed. Raiders of the Lost Ark alum Karen Allen is unbearably emotive as the bigoted farmer's wife. The unintentional burning-down of the farmer's barn wouldn't be any less offensive had the screenwriters pissed on it. And each and every plot turn is all too neatly wrapped up before the ending credits start to roll. Still, the handling of the material is more properly respectful than insultingly manipulative, and the golden cinematography by Dan Heigh and Don Caron's evocative score are virtually faultless. The Basket is far from original, yet it plays itself out as acceptable-enough entertainment.

Good for a rainy Saturday afternoon.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=4958&reviewer=327
originally posted: 01/10/03 10:00:42
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User Comments

9/19/04 rayn no Comments 5 stars
2/22/02 Unanon It's safe for my mother to see. Pretty bland. 3 stars
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  05-May-2000 (PG)



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