review for He Got Game on AllMovie

He Got Game (1998)
by Derek Armstrong review

After laughable big-screen forays by Shaquille O'Neal and Dennis Rodman, it may come as a surprise that there are professional basketball players who can actually act. One such diamond in the rough is Ray Allen, who came out of nowhere to be the heart and soul of He Got Game, Spike Lee's first film about his favorite sport. Allen's flawless performance as a Brooklyn high-school prodigy at the center of a maelstrom of attention and expectations is just one of the astonishing things about Lee's triumphant film. Another is Denzel Washington, whose Jake Shuttlesworth lands in the unenviable position of trying to sweet-talk his estranged son, Jesus (Allen), who blames Jake for the death of his mother. The gifted actor knows just how to walk the thin line between menace and sympathy in portraying the flawed convict who nearly broke his son's spirit trying to perfect the young boy's game. At its core, Lee's film is a poetic homage to hoops (check out the loving opening credits montage) and an examination of the complexity of family relations. But it's sharpest -- and indeed quite funny -- when it dissects the interwoven web of coaches, agents, women, and tenuous acquaintances who are just chomping at the bit to exploit these star players. Jesus' opportunities come so fast and furious that it takes intense will power to avoid the kind of slip-ups that could cost him his eligibility, and quite possibly, a promising NBA career. As ever, Lee's film is enhanced by a strong soundtrack, especially Public Enemy's memorable update of Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth."