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30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great film
There has been well-documented commentary about the producers of The Express having taken liberties with some of the facts. While this is true, none of those liberties really obscure or confuse the Ernie Davis story. If you want to see a more factual presentation of the Ernie Davis story, check out the 30-minute documentary about Davis in ESPN's SportCentury series. It...
Published on January 8, 2009 by GS

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars '21 straight lines five yards apart. That is a football field. But there are other lines you don't see...'
"The Express: The Ernie Davis Story" is an inspirational football movie LOOSELY based on the true story of Ernie Davis, the first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy - following his 1961 season at Syracuse University. Davis is played by Rob Brown.

The movie, unfortunately, rather than focusing on Ernie Davis, splits the focus and ends up being not only...
Published on July 14, 2012 by Cheryl Stout


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30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great film, January 8, 2009
By 
GS (St. Paul) - See all my reviews
There has been well-documented commentary about the producers of The Express having taken liberties with some of the facts. While this is true, none of those liberties really obscure or confuse the Ernie Davis story. If you want to see a more factual presentation of the Ernie Davis story, check out the 30-minute documentary about Davis in ESPN's SportCentury series. It is very well done, too. You'll find that in this feature film, there is not much significant straying from fact.

This was an excellent film. In the theater where I saw the film, the audience was so into the movie, particularly the football action, that some folks actually cheered when Davis would make a good run or score a touchdown. The director and actors did a great job of hooking the viewer into the intensity of the games. Great story without getting too hung up on the national politics of the time. Highly recommended.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars AN INSPIRING, BUT SAD BIOGRAPHY! WELL DONE!, August 21, 2009
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Being a football fan I am ashamed to say I didn't know this story before seeing the film. I did have some knowledge of this tragedy, but I didn't know the full story. This is a gripping biography about a young man who never got the chance to reap the rewards for his hard work and perseverance through a time when this county didn't see blacks as people. It's hard to believe this was only 60 years ago! It's really appalling how we treated certain people in those days and it's only been in the last 20 years when we have even begun to put this practice in the garbage where it belongs.

The film follows the life of football running back Ernie Davis who has such an inspiring, but ultimately sad story of how he overcame many hard ships to become an incredible running back and model sportsman. The film has a great balance of football heroics and compelling drama and should keep any movie fan interested during its two hour running time.

Excellent performances and realistic action make this a winner from start to finish! I would love to see a film about Barry Sanders that was handled this well. Although Sander's story isn't nearly this sad, it's really one that should be told, you don't have to win the Superbowl to be a winner!.....Hollywood are you listening?
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A mediocre film of an inspirational story, March 26, 2012
Gary Fleder's "The Express" just adds to the ever-increasing list of sports movies centred around a hero overcoming adversary. The producers successfully managed to combine the true story of athletic achievement and overcoming racism to create a melodramatic movie that we've all seen before.

Although "The Express" doesn't stand out and is entirely predictable, it definitely appeals to the masses. Ernie Davis played by Rob Brown, is shown as a promising football player while growing up who goes on to play for Syracuse University and eventually gets drafted by the Cleveland Browns. During his time at Syracuse, Davis leads his team to win the school's first national football championship and becomes the first African American to win the Heisman Trophy.

All of the actors portrayed their characters as likeable and charismatic although almost all of their roles can be found in every other dramatic sport film. Ernie's white teammates are rude and intolerant of Ernie and start a number of locker room fights while Dennis Quaid's character is the harsh coach with a good heart who sticks with Davis until the very end. Although the numerous shots of football games along with fast paced music keep the audience's attention, the storyline is extremely predictable and difficult to get invested in.

"The Express" has excellent cinematography with plenty of scenes of the real football games that Ernie Davis was playing in along with re-enacted footage that will leave you gaping at the screen. However, cinematography can only go so far in telling the story and what the director, Gary Fleder, excelled at in the technicalities of filming, he fell short at with portraying Ernie Davis' story in a way that moved viewers. The concept of Davis becoming a star in an environment where he was constantly facing discrimination is undoubtedly a powerful one. This coupled with Davis' diagnosis of leukaemia alone has the potential of an extremely powerful film. However, viewers never got to see how Ernie evolved as a person and how he felt about not being able to join his team at hotels and restaurants because of the colour of his skin. Ernie's diagnosis was also not focused on until around the last 20 minutes of the movie and even then, the tone of the movie didn't match the direction that the story was heading in, one where Davis died at only 23 years old.

Scenes that focused on the racism prevalent in Davis' life were mostly inaccurate. It was definitely something that Davis and the Syracuse team had to deal with but the screaming southern Texans that were shown at the 1960 Cotton Bowl Classic were a product of dramatic licence. One of the first games shown was between Syracuse and West Virginia University during which West Virginia team members and referees both acted with obvious bias against the Orangemen. Film Journal International critic Frank Lovece commented on the scene by saying that it "veers remarkably toward outright slander." In reality, the Syracuse coach, Ben Schwartzwalder, was revered at WVU and the Syracuse quarterback Dick Easterly said that the scene was completely fictitious. The pivotal Cotton Bowl scene was also inaccurate with its representation of the racial tension in the stadium. Bobby Lackey who was quarterback of the University of Texas team said, "...they were making up stories to try and sell more movie tickets."

Not only were the football games inaccurate but it can also be argued that the entire movie did not accurately represent Ernie Davis' life at all. John Brown, Davis' friend, teammate, and roommate was asked whether or not the film was a genuine portrayal of Ernie and Brown said, "...in short, no."

"The Express" is a well made Hollywood take on how Ernie Davis went on to become an inspiration to thousands and is perfect for those who won't mind watching yet another adaptation of every football movie in existence.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Past interference, July 17, 2009
The Express is a film with numerable historical inaccuracies, fictionalized recitations, composite characterizations and tangential embellishments not unlike Rudy, Remember the Titans, Hoosiers, Glory Road, Brian's Song, and in all probability any other sports oriented film based on true events and people. Yet, not one of the aforementioned presumptive deficiencies serve to mitigate my personal contention it remains a worthwhile movie for any real fan of college sports and manages to effectively convey the spirit of socio-cultural dictates of the represented era . It is an absolutely enjoyable drama based on the life Ernie Davis, not a documentary of the life of Ernie Davis.

Davis was not a trailblazer nor was he alone in absorbing the ignorant, racist invectives and missiles launched in the direction of blacks from nearly every nook and cranny of an America gradually but at glacial-like pace being moved in the direction of a more pluralistic society. From most accounts and most assuredly based on the depiction in this movie, he was an impressive individual and athlete who by virtue of his athleticism ascended to the status of role model and hero for legions of people but tragically was afflicted with leukemia and died at the much too tender age of 23.

Portrayed with subtle intensity by Rob Brown and continually juxtaposed with his college coach Ben Schwartzwalder (Dennis Quaid, in a role where significantly more complexity was exhibited than he is typically given credit), it matters little if his spectacular 87 yard touchdown catch/run occurred in the 1st quarter or was transposed to the 4th quarter in the movie for dramatic impact. In either case, the value of his performance in the 1959 Cotton Bowl was incalculable as it related to the uplift of a marginalized, suppressed black populous in Dallas, Texas specifically and the nation, in general. Unfortunately, unlike a near to contemporaneous role model from another sport, Roy Campenella, whose career was also derailed by a debilitating disease, Davis never had the opportunity to demonstrate his athletic brilliance in the brighter lights of professional sports and stills remains an unknown quantity for far too many.

Flawed or not, this film is a genuine and timely attempt to address that obscurity.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Express: A Solid Touchdown, June 6, 2010
Based on a true story, The Express follows the bittersweet yet extraordinary life of Ernie Davis (played by Rob Brown), the first African American to win the prestigious Heisman Trophy in the Civil rights era. His fight for equality and respect forever changed the face of American sports and his story continues to inspire new generations.

This docudrama begins with Davis as a stuttering youth, growing up in a small coal town outside of Pittsburgh with his grandfather, affectionally known as Pops whom he is very close to. Ernie later moves to Elmira with his mother, where he joins a small football league. With Ernie's extraordinary skills, he is eventually sought after by 50 colleges which was a huge feat for a black person during the civil rights era. An era when Black players were unwelcome in the South. Ernie is soon called by coach Ben Schwartzwalder (Dennis Quaid) and football legend Jim Brown (Darrin Dewitt Henson) who make Ernie part of their team, the Syracuse Orangemen. Ernie Davis leads the team to an undefeated season. Despite all the racism he faces at nearly every point of his life, determined Ernie becomes the first African American to win the Heisman trophy and goes on to play for the Cleveland Browns.

The Express isn't just about football; it shows black pride and determination despite the racism. An important scene in the movie that portrays this determination, is when the team travels to West Virginia University to play the mountaineers. The coach removes Ernie from the game because he fears that if he scored a touchdown, the audience would react violently. However, Ernie refuses to be removed from the game and scores a touch down. Afterwards the coach and Ernie have an angry confrontation where the coach states " If I let you carry that goal all the way across the board, we might not get on the bus in one piece, thats how it works around here." Ernie, angered by this statement tells the coach to respect him as an equal part of the team and not give in to racism. As the growing civil rights movement divided the country in the 60's, Davis became a symbol for achievement that transcended race. Davis refused to flinch from others' prejudices and achieved all his goals. He was referred to by John F. Kennedy as an " Outstanding young man of great character who served as an inspiration to young people of this country."

Having received many positive remarks, critics have also pointed out some flaws. In a USA Today article by Mike Clark, The Express is said to have "mostly conventional storytelling." The movie fails to recognize the rest of Davis' life. It doesn't bring up the fact that after being drafted by pro football in 1961, Davis developed leukemia and died in 1963 never having played a pro game. This shows that The Express attempted to only present the happy sides of Davis' life and disregard the rest.
Also, according to journalists and film critics there are some historical inaccuracies. The locations shown in the movie are fictitious. The Express changed the location of where the games actually took place. Frank Lovece, a Film Journal International critic stated "That game is falsely shown as taking place at WVU's Mountaineer Field" in Morgantown, West Virginia, rather than at Syracuse's own Archbold Stadium." As a result, the film has drawn the ire of many West Virginians, including the state's governor, Joe Manchin, and university officials. A similar mistake was also made at the scene in the finished film, whose original script didn't involve West Virginia. This scene was supposed to depict a 1958 game at the Tar Heels Stadium in North Carolina. This is completely inaccurate. In the season of 1958 Davis was still a freshman and therefore didn't play on the Orangemen's varsity team. Syracuse didn't even play North Carolina until 1995. As far as the sequence of plays and scores go, The Express shows them completely out of order. But these are just minor inaccuracies which don't effect the movie or its reputation much.
Referencing the inaccuracy of the location of the game, Frank Lovece, a Journal International critic stated that, "The Express plays fast and loose with the historical record, and while dramatization is a given in biopics, these scenes here veer remarkably toward outright slander."
All together, The Express is an extremely inspirational movie. This docudrama can strengthen anyones determination to achieve their goals. It can also teach people to stand up for their beliefs despite what others think. Despite the historical inaccuracies, The Express is a solid touchdown.
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19 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great movie about the best football player you've never heard of!, February 18, 2009
By 
Bill Garrison (Oklahoma City, OK USA) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
The Express is the story of Syracuse running back Ernie Davis. Davis followed the great Jim Brown and played for Syracuse in the late 1950s. Davis might have been even better that Jim Brown. Davis led his team to a national championship and became the first African American to win the Heisman Trophy.

This is a another feel-good racism sports movie along the lines of Meet the Titans or Glory Road. I say "feel-good" because the harsh realities of American racism in the late 1950s are explored and covered, but racism's true graphic and intense nature is never displayed.

Ernie Davis was always an optimistic man. He was one of a few minorities on campus and on the team, yet he was always kind to everyone. This movie made even better because most people haven't heard of Davis. He died tragically at the age of 23 from lukemia. He is truly a man that deserves to be honored in a movie like this.

The football scenes are top notch. Dennis Quaid is great as the Orangemen coach. The period settings really capture the feel of the time this movie was based in. On a downside, after watching the film, I still don't feel I know who Ernie Davis was, other than a man who battled racism. I wish the movie could have explored his personal life more.

I'm only 36 and thankful I've grown up in a time and location where racism has not been a part of my life. This movie pays homage to a man who broke the color barrier when it wasn't easy and made it possible for a man who is also African American to become president of the United States.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars '21 straight lines five yards apart. That is a football field. But there are other lines you don't see...', July 14, 2012
"The Express: The Ernie Davis Story" is an inspirational football movie LOOSELY based on the true story of Ernie Davis, the first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy - following his 1961 season at Syracuse University. Davis is played by Rob Brown.

The movie, unfortunately, rather than focusing on Ernie Davis, splits the focus and ends up being not only about Davis but a lot about his football coach, Ben Schwartzwalder, played by Dennis Quaid. Both parts are played well but since this is "The Ernie Davis Story," I would have preferred more about Davis.

I would have enjoyed finding out more about how Davis FELT about the times he was living in. The movie takes place during the height of the civil rights movement. Davis was also the first African-American - nationally - to become a member of the Sigma Alpha Mu Fraternity, a Jewish fraternity, while at Syracuse University. He was also the first African-American to be the first overall draft pick, going to the Redskins in the 1962 NFL draft and then being traded to the Browns.

Davis was a fantastic running back, which the movie does show. He also died tragically at 23 years old of leukemia, before playing his first pro game.

The movie was worth watching - as a sports movie, as long as you aren't overly concerned by details; and as an inspirational story. It's a tearjerker so be prepared. If you enjoyed Brian's Song, you should enjoy "The Express."
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This guy was a hero, June 28, 2009
By 
145CES (Gastonia, NC) - See all my reviews
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Good story, lots of action, reminds me of the narrative at the beginning of Brian's Song. All true stories end in death, this is a true story. Find his letter to the Saturday Evening Post online. This young man makes today's athletes pale in comparison. CHARACTER, INTEGRITY, SELFLESSNESS. Glad his story was told.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Great and Inspirational Story!, December 29, 2010
By 
Bottom-Line: Overall "The Express" succeeds at both educating and inspiring and that is never a bad thing!

"The Express: The Ernie Davis Story (2008)," opens with the following narration: "Twenty-one lines, five yards apart-that's a football game. But there are other lines that run deeper, and wider, that aren't part of any game." As a Black American male who grew up in the seventies, partly in the North, partly in the South of this nation, I know all too well the meaning of the subtext.

But my experiences as traumatic and life-altering as they were to me, were nothing, nothing compared to those of Black American men and women who scarified much in the decade leading up to the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. And their courage helped fill in the deep racial divide that so used to stain--and still stains--this nation in rutty ugliness. They did it by achieving when and where they weren't supposed to, showing the nation and the world that Black Americans were--and are--every bit the equal of White's and, in some cases, better! Such is the case with Ernie Davis and "The Express" is his tale.

Story-Line

Directed by (Gary Fleder ~ October Road), "The Express" opens on an all too familiar scene: two Black American boys (cousins) are confronted by a gaggle of White's demanding the spoils of their labor: collecting glass bottles for the deposits. One boy hops a train to escape, the other (Ernie Davis ~ Justin Martin) eludes the boys with a combination of slick moves and lightning speed.

Flash forward: Ernie Davis (Rob Brown ~ Stop Loss, Treme), nicknamed the "The Elmira Express," is an all-star running back for his Elmira, NY high school and is being recruited by Syracuse University coach Ben Schwartzwalder (Dennis Quaid ~ The Parent Trap, Flight of the Phoenix, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra) and Jim Brown (Darrin Dewitt Henson ~ Soul Food, Stomp The Yard, Lincoln Heights) to play for the Syracuse Orangeman; he accepts.

Thus begins an odyssey that will eventually see Ernie Davis win the famed Heisman Trophy in 1961.

My Thoughts

"The Express: The Ernie Davis Story" is an inspiration, how could it not be taking place as it did just as the American Civil Rights movement was kicking into high gear, and Ernie Davis was one of the faces of a young Black America hungry for change. Racial equality, true justice and equivalency were the touchstones of the movement and Ernie Davis was one of the symbols Black Americans were proud to point to as a representation of the race as a whole.

Well-acted and directed, "The Express: The Ernie Davis Story" at times made me smile, made me angry, made me proud and made me shed a tear. Like I said the movie is inspirational and moving. Lead Rob Brown turned in an outstanding performance and showcases the all too under-utilized talent Black American actors bring to theatrical table. Two thumbs up to the Denis Quaid as well for a masterful depiction of a typical college football coach.

Here are some thing you do not know about Ernie Davis; I know I did know them before watching this movie: he was a two-time first-team All-America running back at Syracuse University; he led his team to an undefeated season and a national championship, the first for Syracuse University; most importantly, he, Ernie Davis, was the first black man to earn college football's most coveted award, the oft-revered Heisman Trophy.

These are the fact young American children, black or white, red, or brown, do not learn about in school, not even at the college level unless you attend a Black College or University, or take an African American studies class. If you are a Black American child you are taught that your ancestors used to be slaves and little else; good luck trying to find achievements by Black Americans in a Texas state history book! It takes movies like "The Express", Rosewood (1997), Separate But Equal (1991), Roots (1977) and others to tell the unvarnished history of Black achievement in America.

Not that "The Express" did not take license with the truth; e.g. the team get together at the local rib joint after the Cotton Bowl purportedly never took place. And the movie was over-dramatic at times. But overall "The Express" succeeds at both educating and inspiring and that is never a bad thing!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Fitting Tribute, September 2, 2009
As a sports nut I should be ashamed there were so many facts about Ernie Davis I knew nothing about. Yes, I knew he was the first African-American to win the Heisman--and he won it when the civil rights issue was at its zenith. And yes, I knew he died tragically young, but had no idea leukemia claimed him at age 23, before he even got to play a down in the NFL. And I did not know the Cleveland Browns, who drafted him to play alongside fellow Syracuse legend Jim Brown, retired his jersey number. But I know all of this now, thanks to watching THE EXPRESS, a tribute to Ernie Davis and his collegiate career. Sure, it's a little sappy and reeks of melodramatic cliches at times, but overall this is a very moving story about a young man of strong moral fiber fighting not only tacklers on the field, but a society determined to keep him at second class status.

THE EXPRESS features a superb cast, including Rob Brown in the lead role. Brown plays the young Syracuse superstar with calm demeanor and resolute determination; other actors, given the racial tensions of the setting, might have been tempted to go over the top, but Brown keeps the lid on. I thoroughly enjoyed Dennis Quaid as gruff head coach Ben Schwartzwalder--a man who must go on a personal journey of his own, as he discovers he's not as open and tolerant as he originally believes. And I really liked Darrin Dewitt Henson playing the proud, yet always defiant, Jim Brown. The football scenes--particularly the 1960 Cotton Bowl against an angry Texas team--are gritty and realistic; sports fans will enjoy the action, while everyone else will enjoy the humanity THE EXPRESS so aptly depicts.
--D. Mikels, Author, Walk-On
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The Express  [Blu-ray]
The Express [Blu-ray] by Gary Fleder (Blu-ray - 2009)
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