He Got Game is a dense and overly complicated family drama with aspirations of becoming a sports classic. This is director Spike Lee’s love letter to the game of basketball and it’s an opus on the level of his best work in scope and size. Yet, it doesn’t have the same momentum or distinguished point-of-view that Malcolm X, Do the Right Thing, or Clockers possess. But the richly defined acting of Denzel Washington single-handedly saves the film from becoming a preachy exercise in melodramatic narrative.
Jake Shuttlesworth (Denzel Washington) is a convict serving time for murdering his wife in front of his young children. He is given a chance at personal and family redemption when he’s offered a conditional parole – he must persuade his son (NBA star Ray Allen), a highly sought after high school basketball player, to sign a letter of intent to play at the governor’s alma mater university, Big State. Jake is given seven days before the deadline and within that week must connect with a family he destroyed years before.
Spike Lee is an unquestionably talented filmmaker. His movies feel vibrant and alive, there is typically not a false note in the technical departments. He Got Game contains some of the director’s most interesting choices behind the camera, but it never fully achieves a level of greatness. It’s a flawed film with a useless subplot involving a prostitute played by Milla Jovovich, but the movie has a number of great scenes and performances, and that’s why I give it a marginal recommendation.
Director: Spike Lee
Stars: Denzel Washington, Ray Allen, Milla Jovovich