What You Need To Know:
In HE GOT GAME, Jake, played by Denzel Washington, is a prisoner who believes in the forgiveness of the Lord and is hoping for forgiveness from his children. He has a son named Jesus who is the top high school basketball recruit in the nation. Coaches want Jesus to go to their school or into the NBA. Jake is released from prison for one week to persuade Jesus to sign with the warden's alma matter. Jesus doesn't want to hear from Jake, but in time, he softens to his father. The relationship grows, but unforgiveness keeps father and son apart.
Jake has to wrestle with wanting to get out of prison and being a true father to his son. Jesus has to contend with all the world has to offer him. This movie has the potential to display a well-written story of redemption, forgiveness and the love of a father and son. Regrettably, it goes the route of most urban movies and indulges in the excessive obscenities and sexual overtones. In trying to portray real life in Coney Island, Spike Lee moves away from the moral base of the movie and fails to deliver a movie that had the potential to show the importance of God and family.
(CC, B, Ab, Pa, LLL, VV, SSS, NNN, AA, DDD, M) Mild Christian worldview of a teenage athlete who has to make the decision to go to college or to the pros; 69 obscenities, 12 profanities & 26 blasphemies; person shot, woman shoved & violently hit by appliance, man hits boy, woman beat by pimp, man hit in throat, & woman murdered; pornographic sex scenes, imagined sexual encounters, discussions of sex, & graphic sex scenes of teenagers; full female nudity, upper male nudity, upper female nudity, & women dressed in swimming suits; graphic drug use; excessive alcohol use; and, gambling & bribery.
In HE GOT GAME, Jake Shuttlesworth (Denzel Washington) is a prisoner who is serving time for murder at Attica, a high security prison in New York State. He believes in the forgiveness of the Lord and is hoping for forgiveness from his children. He has not heard from his children since he was incarcerated. He has a son named Jesus (pronounced like the Savior) who is the top high school basketball recruit in the nation. Coaches want Jesus to go to their school or into the NBA and everyone wants to be the first to know what his decision will be. Spike Lee, the writer/director of DO THE RIGHT THING and MALCOM X, presents a journey of an African-American father and son as they both try to break free from the “prisons” that surround their lives and build a relationship lost six years before.
Jake plays basketball and reads the Bible in prison. One day, Jake is pulled into the warden’s office and given an opportunity to shorten his sentence if he can convince his son to sign with Big State University, the governor’s alma mater. He is on a monitored release for one week with the sole purpose to sign his son, who only has one week to decide what to do after high school. Jake is put in a sleazy hotel in the heart of Coney Island, where his family lives. He is given some money to get some clothes and food, and he is monitored by parole officers every day. He has specific instructions to contact his son and to get him to listen to Jake’s fatherly advice. Even with his outdated look and communication style, Jake manages to find his children and tries to enter back into their lives.
Jesus Shuttlesworth (Ray Allen) has been raising his sister since the death of his mother and the incarceration of his father. Jesus has a beautiful girlfriend named Lala, who wants him to meet an athletic agent. His basketball coach and financial benefactor consistently gives Jesus advice. The local Coney Island kingpin, Big Time, tells him about the desperate lives of all who stay on Coney Island. His Uncle Bubba feels entitled to some of the potential wealth that Jesus can earn. All the students at Lincoln High School want to know what Jesus’ decision is going to be. All this makes Jesus frustrated and fed up.
Jake finally gets to meet Jesus on the basketball court and tries to persuade Jesus to go to Big State. Jesus is belligerent, confused and has no respect for his father’s advice and walks away. Jake attempts to talk to Jesus later about resolving their differences and genuinely shows love for his son. He tries to ask forgiveness from his children. As the film progresses, Jesus does soften to his father’s advice and begins to desire the advice of his father. The relationship grows between the two, but the lack of forgiving hearts continues to build a wall that keeps growing between father and son.
The center of the story is the building of a father-son relationship. Jake has to wrestle with wanting to get out of prison and being a true father to his son. Jesus has to contend with all the world has to offer him. Jake tries to find solace in a prostitute named Dakota (Milla Jovovich), who befriends him and tries to escape from her life also. She enjoys his company and finds an opportunity for escape in the way he treats her with needed respect. Jesus is confronted with luxury cars, beautiful women and money, then having to weigh that against honoring his mother’s memory of getting an education. He misses his mother and continually flashes back to her words of advice for direction. Both involve parallel decisions that make the difference not only for themselves, but all the lives they touch.
This movie begins with potential to display a well-written story of redemption, forgiveness and the love of a father and son. However, ultimately it goes the route of most films based in urban areas and indulges in the excesses of obscenities and sexual overtones. Jake and Jesus are both men with morals and integrity, but fall for temptations of the flesh easily. Lee’s writing keeps the audience wanting to know why the characters respond the way they do, without giving away all the answers. It is frustrating that he has to fall back on profanity and pornographic images as a means of forcing his point onto the audience.
As a director, Lee makes good use of flashback imagery and stop action photography to give a documentary feel to the film. With all the basketball films that have come out in the past decade, he actually makes the sport interesting to watch. He could have eliminated the many sex scenes, which were pornographic, and still made his point of the excesses faced by today’s young athletes. The images of drug use, alcohol use and violence also show a lack of imagination.
At the start of the film, Christian audiences had something to cheer about. Jake Shuttlesworth loves God and knows that he has been forgiven for his sins. He still seeks the forgiveness of his family and seems to wrestle with forgiving himself. Jesus Shuttlesworth is a high school student with a sound moral base. Even his name is depicted as being derived from our Lord, because of the faith of his parents.
Regrettably, Lee pursues some downward turns in the story. Jesus’ Name begins to have blasphemous undertones, mocking the figure that the Savior represents. Spike Lee then goes too far to drive his message to the audience through confronting all the sins of this world. Denzel Washington performs admirably as Jake. He gives life to this character’s pride and sinful nature, but convinces the audience that he has a forgiving heart. Ray Allen shows that he can keep up with an Academy Award-winning actor.
Spike Lee has always shown a talent for representing the urban and African-American experience to all audiences. Regrettably, he went after too many of the stereotypes of this culture and misdirected the message he was trying to tell. In trying to portray real life in Coney Island, he lost the direction while still exhibiting strong writing. Then, he gets away from the moral base of the film and falters in delivering a film that had the potential to show the importance of God and family.