In 1971 Jim Ellis (Terrence Howard) makes his way to Philadelphia from North Carolina to apply for a job as a swimming coach at the prestigious Mainline Academy. Coach Bink (Tom Arnold) is rude and rejects him. Ellis applies for a job as a teacher in the public school system but is hired to close the decrepit Marcus Foster Recreation Center instead because young people no longer use it. As African-American kids shoot hoops in the yard, the director, grumpy Elston (Bernie Mac), whiles away the time sleeping in his chair.
Ellis discovers the old swimming pool filled with junk. He clears it out and fills the pool with water. Elston growls about what will happen with the Philadelphia Department of Recreation (PDR) gets the bill. Ellis, who had been a high school swim champion until an unfortunate altercation with a policeman at a meet ended with his arrest, finished college but was on the brink of unemployment. When the city removes the hoops from the yard, the kids can no longer play so Ellis shows them the pool and offers to teach them to swim. Twenty five years later, Ellis is still teaching inner-city African-American kids how to swim at the PDR. Hundreds have gone to college on swimming scholarships due to his efforts.
Pride, based on a true story, follows a very conventional story line, which is to be expected given that it took four writers to craft the script. Terrence Howard is very good as a man who continues to struggle with his demons even as he labors to show young people that swimming, like all sports, takes discipline and builds character. We expect Bernie Mac to play the comic, but here he plays a dramatic role just right. I especially liked him when he approached the neighborhood church to enlist the congregation to support the team. Tom Arnold, however, is a cardboard character, the token biased white-guy. Direction is by novice director Sunu Gonera.
I love that the filmmakers decided a movie about swimming was worth their time. Having been on my high school swim team (a long time ago!) I really got into the film’s competitions and appreciated what it took for the young people to train and become a team. At one point Ellis/Howard walks into the rec center and takes a deep breath when he smells the pool. I know that “feeling”; it’s one of excitement and anticipation. Even with the expected emotional jag at the end and its low-budget feel, I enjoyed Pride very much. And I think Terrence Howard is terrific.
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