Monday, May 27, 2013

That Championship Season: Overwrought melodrama

Robert Mitchum heads a big name cast (Stacy Keach, Bruce Dern, Martin Sheen, and Paul Sorvino) in the 1983 film version of Jason Miller’s Pulitzer Prize winning play, That Championship Season. Fairly dreary overall, this was an attempt by Cannon Films, a now defunct studio specializing in low-budget Chuck Norris groin-kickers, to play on the same field as the big boys and maybe sneak into the race for Academy Awards. They failed, and would fail again when letting novelist Norman Mailer direct a film based on his Raymond Chandler homage, Tough Guys Don’t Dance, later that decade.

Miller wrote That Championship Season as an unemployed actor then turned down a multi-picture contract with Warner Bros. after his success as an actor in The Exorcist to continue writing, but he never got lucky again. It’s surprising he got lucky at all.

That Championship Season is overwrought, melodramatic stuff in which the members of a college basketball team reunite with their coach (Mitchum) years later to relive past glories and open old wounds. The coach, the supposed voice of wisdom in this gang of overgrown children, tries to calm the troubled waters and teach them valuable lessons about life, but he seems no wiser than they are. If he was the sage they think he is, why would he be as lost in the past as they are?

Miller directed this stagebound film version, and the stage is as drab as the characters. It’s set in the coach’s dreary house with wallpaper the color of chewing tobacco. Earth tones are comforting. They can also be dull.

Brian W. Fairbanks

© 2009 Brian W. Fairbanks


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