In Hoop Dreams two young African-American boys from rough inner-city Chicago neighborhoods make use of their prodigious basketball talents to aim for a life outside the ghetto. But strife and setbacks befall them at every turn. Will they succeed? Meet Arthur Agee and William Gates. Many have said that this could be the best documentary ever made. I just watched this and I’m sitting here in tears. I’m not any kind of sports fan and can’t sit through a TV basketball game, but this film… it got to me. It’s about two inner-city youths who follow their almost impossible dreams of reaching the NBA. People may first think of it as being “that basketball movie”, but it’s really not only that. Hoops Dreams is more than just about basketball — it’s a portrait of inner city life. About a quarter-way through the film, the audience (and the filmmakers) discover the boys’ families, and what a better story that is. This is when the story transcends the typical sports-doc clichés, and becomes a symbol of the modern American family and the so-called “American Dream”. We watch as the two families struggle and sacrifice for the greater good. There are moments that are incredibly beautiful (when one of the mothers graduates as a nurse, you get a sense of pride) and incredibly tragic (one of the fathers is involved with drugs near his son, right on camera). Forget about all the ‘Reality TV’ going on right now — this is life. It started slowly for me, but the more I watched, the more I got drawn into the story. This film follows these two talented young African-American basketball players who are just about to begin high school. They have lived in the projects all their life. Both are recruited by a well-known private high school basketball program that offers increased possibility of eventually getting a college scholarship for basketball. Ninety minutes away from their inner-city homes, the private school is in a nice suburb where mostly Whites live. The documentary follows the lives of both of these kids through their high school years, with all the highs and all the lows, all the twists that life can bring, and all the pain and glory. Both boys struggle to keep up their basketball skills while trying to improve their weak academic skills — and also dealing with the usual host of urban-poor issues at home such as lack of money, family members’ substance abuse, parents’ marital issues, teen pregnancies etc. William Gates struggles with a knee injury that could potentially end his basketball dreams early. Arthur Agee washes out of the private school and ends up attending and playing basketball for an urban high school near his home. Although there’s a goodly amount of basketball in the film, a lot of the story also takes place off the court. At times the amount of pressure getting placed on teenage Arthur and William by everybody from coaches to family members is almost painful to watch. The two boys don’t compete against each other; in fact they end up pulling for one another. Each one’s journey makes you care about them on a personal level. When William is at the free-throw line, you’ll be biting your nails with anticipation. When Arthur starts to slack off, you want to say “Get it together!” Within are the plot twists of a Hollywood movie, but you’d never believe them if it were fiction. Along with a cast of characters that are unforgettable. There are many great moments on and off the court. In a film-making process that consumed eight years, we the audience are given not only a glimpse at these lives, but we walk next to them at school, work out with them at practice, congratulate them in their victories, and comfort them in their losses. As you watch William and Arthur grow up, you start to develop your own ideas about them — and just as you think you’ve got everything figured out, there’s another ironic twist of fate. This film really makes you realize the complexities of life. It’s a documentary that draws you in like a drama. This movie touched me in a way that no movie ever has. This movie is real life, and very few movies are able to capture like this one what life is really like in the inner city. These are two stories I would have had trouble believing, had they been in a fictional film. I was surprised to walk away from this movie feeling inspired. I definitely recommend it. When this came out in 1994, I’d never seen a documentary, at least not by choice. I didn’t fully realize this was a documentary until I was fully absorbed by the stories of these two wonderful, engaging, and obviously talented young men. I was 14 — what could you expect? At that age, I was a basketball player with some aspirations of my own. Though I was a bit more grounded and realized that I may not even play college ball, let alone hit the parquet NBA-style, I still wanted it. This film works for those of us who have dreams, not only of basketball stardom, but any dreams. This shows the work involved, choices that must be made, and the obstacles that must be tackled on the way to getting to any promised land. I was not the biggest fan of documentaries. Then I saw this. This is the best real life documentary I have ever seen. This could have easily been a best feature film if they were all actors. But they are real people that you come to care about so much. No clichés, no ugly behavior, no cattiness. Just real people. Amazing movie! As the movie delves into the lives of these two young black kids living in a rough urban environment, they are forced to deal with issues that people like me (upper middle class suburban white kid) would never think about facing and, more importantly, have the ability to overcome like these two young men did. To paraphrase Arthur’s mother: ‘I’m going to make his favorite cake for his 18th birthday. And some kids don’t live to this age, you know. That’s another thing to be proud about. That it’s his 18th birthday, he lived, and to get to see 18, that’s good,’ says Arthur’s mother. That says it all. This movie is about growing up in the ghetto, and how much more motivation these kids need to excel in life. The environment they grow up in challenges them every day. The stories of each kid are jaw-dropping and could not be written better. When I finished the movie, I was amazed to find out that all of this was true and it actually happened. Honestly, this movie, like any great movie, made me reexamine how I perceive the world. I can’t say enough about how interesting and informative this movie is. Be warned, this film is almost three hours long, and can be a bit slow at times. For those who think the movie is too long, think about how long it to make this movie: eight years. The least we can do is sit for three hours to watch what someone took eight years to make. Arguably the best documentary ever made. I must admit that I initially saw this film when it came out only because Siskel & Ebert were gushing about it. They both agreed that it was the best film of 1994, and Ebert declared it the best film of the 1990’s. After watching the movie, I see what all the talk was about. You can hear a movie is classic, but it won’t sink in until you actually watch it for yourself. Hoop Dreams is one of the top three films I have ever seen. (I feel like I have seen many great films, so that really means something to me.) For sure though, it’s the greatest documentary I have ever seen, and I have seen quite a few of those also. One of the few real achievements in film-making that actually says something. Really great. This is one I could watch many times over. I strongly urge everyone not to be discouraged with the nearly three hours running time. This is a truly special film that shouldn’t be avoided by anyone. Also see the follow-up film Hoop Reality. This Hoops Dreams may really be the greatest documentary ever made. Documentary 199 4PG-13 171 minutes.
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