Tuesday, October 9, 2012

30 in 30 - Day 9: Jim Brown - All American

I was smart tonight and decided to take a look at how long my fim viewing would take me.  Man oh man....I need to find some shorter docs.  132 minutes!  Seriously?  How much do I really need to know about this guy.

Well, I guess it does cover more than just his NFL playing days.

Tonight's film - Jim Brown: All American

Jim Brown: All American (2003)
132 mins.
Rated: NR (but there is a bit of profanity and some sexual references)

"As a football player, he broke through defense lines as if they weren't there.  As an actor, he broke through color barriers to become a black action hero.  As an activist, he broke down closed doors to bring about change.  Jim Brown speaks openly about his life and career, times of fame and fortune and times of trial and trouble."  (source: back of the dvd case)

I own the dvd.....cracked it out of the wrapper finally.

This is another HBO documentary (which I have grown to respect highly). This doc though was made in 2003 - and is directed by Spike Lee.  Two things that don't give me quite as much confidence as with their more current documentaries.

The film opens with Jim being invited to talk to the Baltimore Ravens during a practice the week before the 2001 Super Bowl (a game that Baltimore would win - in convincing fashion).  He talks about opportunity and family.  The will to succeed.

We are then taken back to where Jim Brown was growing up as a kid.  His father was not an influence in his life and lived in a house full of women (grandma, sister, nieces, mom, etc.).  He talks about the challenges he faced early on with regards to race - which would be an overlaying trend through much of the film.

He heads to his high school and meets up with some of his past teachers/coaches.  It is at this time when Jim began to show tremendous athletic talent.  Lacrosse, basketball, football, track.  Jim could do it all.  From there, it is to college at Syracuse.  Again, race comes into the light as he talks about not getting the chances to play because they had a quota on the number of black athletes that could start at one time.

A frustrated freshman, he was ready to quit, but his high school mentors told him to push on.  It was injuries to the starter and back-up running backs that would eventually open the door for Jim (third string at the time).  His first carry would be for a long touchdown run.  He would never sit out a game ever again.

Attitude.  Jim talks a lot about attitude and how he had a sure mindset that nobody would get the better of him.  He could not be tackled, he could not be defeated.  He is so focused that he can't be beat.  He is bigger than the linebackers trying to tackle him.  So much so that they let him run by rather than try to tackle him head on - they would only drag him down from behind.

Very clip heavy at this point, and not overly detailed when it comes to certain accomplishments or events, I find myself losing interest (and I'm only about a half hour in).

Jim talks about his relationship with Browns owner Art Modell.  Paul Brown (coach of the Cleveland Browns) was very intimidated by Jim and would not directly talk to him.  Nonetheless, the Browns found success in 1964 as they become the NFL Champs with a decisive 27-0 victory over Indianapolis.   (note: they were actually the Baltimore Colts....not Indy)

With Jim's success, and popularity as an NFL star, he talks about economics and the importance of blacks helping themselves to further educate and succeed in creating jobs.  He develops the Black Economic Union to assist in just that.  He aligns himself with Muhammed Ali in his decision to refuse draft into the war.  Brown has become more than a football star.  His charisma and knwoledge lands him into the Hollywood spotlight.

There is little revealed with regards to Jim final years in the NFL.  Istead, they focus on his film career.  Rio Conchos in 1964, The Dirty Dozen (which actually interfered with the football season and forced Jim to retire after only 9 years....on his own terms) among others quickly turn Jim Brown into an action star.  His role in 100 Rifles with Raquel Welch was very controversial and Raquel does not speak very highly of Jim (something I found quite interesting).

Later film roles create an even more controversial image of Jim and even label him as an aggressive individual off screen (due in large part to his persona on screen).  He teams up with Richard Pryor (with whom he had a very rocky relationship with due to Pryor's drug abuse) to form a film company.  It quickly fails and Jim - ever the confident one - just roles with it.  He is definitely sure of himself and the decisions he makes in his life.

It is these decisions that is the focus for the last third of the film.  He is accused of assault, rape, destruction of property, pushing a female off a balcony - just to name a few.  A reputation of being violent.  Jim fought off all of these charges, but you can clearly see that it has affected the way the public in general views Jim Brown.

During the L.A. riots, Jim creates the Amer-I-Can program which is aimed to help kids (potential gang members) become better people by giving them the skills to succeed.  While there are testimonies of individuals who have been helped by Jim and his program, the weight of this section just lags a bit.

Lastly, we see Jim today with his family.  His daughter and two sons talk about the struggles growing up as "Jim Brown's kid".  Especially Jim Jr. (which the senior Jim Brown regrets naming him as).  His kids definitely had troubles coping with a father that was never there for them and could not express his love in an outward way towards them.  It looks very awkward when the group shot of them is shown.  I think to myself that the struggles continue to this day.

In 2001, Jim becomes a father again to a baby boy.  A chance to be there for his child this time around.  Only time will tell though.

Rarely have I seen this much talk from Jim Brown.  He is a smart person who seems to dissect things more than I would have expected.  But the overwhelming amount of clips in this doc is just too much.  It was a tough watch - especially at over 2 hours.  It's well shot, but it just couldn't carry my attention.

I was disappointed by the lack of NFL content.  For a guy who was so strongly revered as a running back, his playing days were glossed over in a way.  It wasn't about what he did on the field so much, it was the off-field attitude and conditions that were the focus.  A third of the way through when they got into his acting career...I really started to lose interest.

Sure he was (to some) a ground-breaking actor in the 70's, but was what he did really that tremendous?  The same though when it came to his role as an activist.  I just never really fully cared about Jim Brown.  In fact, in the end I found myself left with more questions than answers.

It's well shot, well edited (although it could have used more NFL b-roll) and Jim's interviews are well done.  But if the story isn't intriguing to me...then that all becomes secondary.

If you're a Jim Brown fan....I think you'll like this doc.  If not...I suggest you pass on this one.

2 out of 5

Here are some other reviews I found online for the film...

Rotten Tomatoes


Entertainment Weekly

Next up...Hoop Dreams


  1. Great series so far; I've enjoyed reading your opinions on these movies.

    "decisive 27-0 victory over Indianapolis."

    Actually, the Browns beat the Baltimore Colts; the franchise moved to Indy in the '80s. A non-sports movie, Diner, is set in Baltimore, and has one of the young guys quizzing his future wife with Colts trivia, but I think that the movie's period predates this game.

    Looking forward to Hoop Dreams...one of my favourites on your list

    1. Aw man....I can't believe I did that.

      This is a good example of how they don't go into a whole lot of detail when it came to events. I saw the Colts logo and they said Colts.........

      Pretty embarrassing.

      Thanks very much for the comment. I'm glad you are enjoying the series. I am very much enjoying the journey myself.

  2. Sounds like a 'skip', huh? A nice 60 minute doc on his NFL career would have probably been a lot better. Can't say I'm interested in it myself. You must have got a good deal on the DVD!