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The Great Debaters

Release Date: 
Star Rating: 
8 out of 10
The Great Debaters, set in the Jim Crow south of the mid '30s, is an absolute triumph for it's director and star, Denzel Washington, who goes behind the camera for the first time since 2002's Antwone Fisher. The results are even more impressive in this tale, inspired by an all-black Texas college debate team that goes on to triumph and an eventual match against Harvard University for the national championship. Washington cast himself in the role of Melvin B. Tolson, a real-life debate instructor who, against all odds in the racist environment in which he was teaching, managed to put together a group of smart, fired-up students to form an extraordinary team that went undefeated in contests against other black colleges up and down the south. Neither he nor they are content to just become a local sensation. Their eyes were on the real prize in Cambridge, Massachusettes, where they would eventually face the Crimson Tide. Fortunately Washington does not wallow in clichés of the inspirational movie genre, but instead, this magnificent film makes you believe again in the power of movies to inspire. It's the fantastic ensemble cast that makes it happen, particularly the three key "debaters" played by Denzel Whitaker, Nate Parker, and Jurnee Smollett. They not only convince you they could have been champions, but they each have created three-dimensional, full-bodied characters you want to root for. Another standout is Forest Whitaker as the stern, but loving father of one of the debaters. Liberties are taken with some characters and events, but the essence of the story is all there. Filled with powerful scenes, including a devastating look at a lynching you won't soon forget, here is a movie that can actually make a difference. What more can you ask from a film?