Jake (Denzel Washington) is offered time off his lengthy prison sentence if he can persuade his son, basketball prodigy Jesus (Ray Allen), to sign for a scholarship at Big State University. Relations between the two are frosty, however, as Jake was a demanding father, and Jesus grows tired of everyone he knows trying to influence his future.
This is Spike Lee’s most polished film, as it has a clear direction combined with the confidence to see its ideas through. Part of the charm of many of Lee’s films, particularly his earlier ones, is that they often feel rough around the edges or experimental in some way. He Got Game is neither of these things. It’s a solid drama which remains on course throughout.
It’s a case of the style matching the substance as the drama of father and son learning to get along again is matched by beautifully shot basketball scenes. In places there’s something almost Kubrickian about the slow motion movement put to a fully orchestrated score.
The characters are all well drawn and acted, making it easy to overlook the slightly ridiculous premise. The set up, of a man persuading his son to sign to a university to get time off his sentence, is there to facilitate the interaction of the characters, on whom the focus remains throughout. There are also excellent flashback scenes of the young Jesus, and a gradual presentation of information about the pasts of the two, keeping it constantly interesting.
This is one of Lee’s most well rounded films, showing his whole range of skills as a director.
He Got Game is available free on YouTube.