Type something and hit enter

By On
In Search of Greatness (2018) - Movie Review

I’ll come right out and admit that I’m not much of a sports person. Competition and athleticism never appealed to me much, with my personal style of games being solitary experiences, often behind a video game controller. But I would say that I’m a people person. I like figuring out how people think, what motivates them, what their goals are and why they have them. This is what made me gravitate toward the sports documentary In Search of Greatness. I wasn’t so much interested in unlocking the secrets of what makes athletes great as I was in seeing what those athletes thought of their craft, and in that respect, the film is a fascinating conversation, riddled with observational conclusions but not much more than well-founded opinions that still come across as very convincing. It’s really unfortunate, then, that it seems the film doesn’t have enough faith in its audience to deliver the conversation without distraction.

In Search of Greatness (2018) - Movie Review
The majority of the film is a collection of talking head interviews with five people: hockey player Wayne Gretzky, football player Jerry Rice, soccer player Pelé, and experts Ken Robinson and David Epstein. With game footage to supplement, what starts as an examination of athleticism through nature versus nurture debate eventually transforms into a sort of communal treatise on the restrictive nature of modern organized sports and the necessity of letting children find their own way to passion for athleticism. The interviewees, and consequently the film as a whole, really subscribe to the idea that measurable statistics that break down an athlete’s body are nowhere near as important as the creativity that must be allowed to flourish for great plays to be made. With so much of the conversation around athletes is how fast they can run or how high they can jump, there is shockingly little accounting for the players’ minds and allowing teams to find their own methods of play.

Trailer In Search of Greatness (2018) - Movie Review
This extends all the way to childhood, and the documentary makes a point of showing that the players interviewed were given the luxury of play as a passion, rather than a regimented schedule meant to turn them into professionals. Kids are now entered into sports academies with the sole intention of one-day becoming stars, which the film not only decries but sees as counterproductive to creating a sport that is enjoyable to watch and fun to play. The real question becomes not what the origin of the physical savant is, but whether the true physical savant can even exist anymore. Sure, this perspective is rooted in a certain degree of good-old-days nostalgia without any effective counterexamples for the sake of devil’s advocacy, but it’s an interesting perspective nonetheless that is worth exploring for eighty minutes.
In Search of Greatness (2018) - Movie Review
Unfortunately, In Search of Greatness doesn’t seem to have faith in the attention span of its audience. The film opens with virtually no prologue, diving right into the topic without so much as an introduction for those who might be unfamiliar with the subjects, and it keeps that sort of frantic pace throughout, jumping between related topics so quickly that it feels like depth only come from looking at the individual topics as a collective whole. The film also resorts to cutaways of dubious relevance, clumsily inserting David Bowie’s "Rebel Rebel" to denote player individuality or Pink Floyd’s "Another Brick in the Wall" as a demonstration of rigid education. It’s all a bit trite, but the worst distraction comes from the person behind the camera during interviews, who just cannot stop themselves from zooming in and out on their subjects’ faces. The entire film is like watching someone figure out how to get the Hitchcock pull just right, creating this uncanny effect where the subject shifts in perspective while the background and foreground continue to maintain the same level of focus – and even if that’s the nauseatingly desired effect, it occasionally results in fuzzy slips out of focus, so the commitment to the bit is entirely beyond my understanding.

And yet, for as frustratingly distracting as the actual filmmaking is, In Search of Greatness isn’t without its value. The conversations with athletes on the nature of their art are intriguing as an intellectual exercise from people not commonly thought of as an intellectual, and it gives one a new appreciation for the kind of person who can make a stamp on their game at the professional level. Just maybe close your eyes during the interviews so that you can fully appreciate what’s being said, rather than be subject to the whims of an operator who treats a camera as a toy.

In Search of Greatness is in theaters on November 2, 2018.

Click to comment
Loading...
Loading...