“They can knock us down. But they can never stop us from getting back up”
Sports stars, actors, musicians – we have seen them all. From the outside looking in, we never quite understand the depth of this gesture. Its ubiquity makes us wonder: what really goes on behind the scenes? In Disney’s newest sports drama, we see the sweat, heart, and sacrifice that allowed the Antentekounmpos brothers to become global superstars and rule the NBA as few others have. It is the second basketball film this month after Netflix’s ‘Hustle’, headlined by an honest Adam Sandler performance.
‘Rise’ begins in Lagos, Nigeria, where Charles and Veronica are forced to leave their only son, Francis, behind. In Turkey, they are dragged away across the border into Greece – illegally – where the situation is just a little better. The xenophobic treatment continues as the anti-immigrant protests stronghold the continent, still figuring out ways to “keep people out”.
Amidst all of this, the Antentekounmpos family of six toils away to make ends meet and keep afloat. Giannis and Thanasis, the eldest of the lot, are the first to take up the sport to support their family. They’re pushed sideways for a long time due to their residency issues. But ultimately, their prayers and grit see them sail through.
It is no secret that sports biopics are big gambles. The margin of error that the maker has is dangerously small. But it is also their responsible shoulders and courage that can take such films to greater, unprecedented heights. In award-winning director Akin Omotoso, Disney finds the perfect man. He does not shy away from presenting the past marred with racism, humiliation, and struggle with immigration issues. In fact, it comes from places and in moments that you’d expect to have actually happened in real life. Yet, he does not stay the course and change the direction of his narrative. It firmly remains focused on bringing out the familial bond that they shared and relished in.
There are inconsistencies along the way. Some of the scenes where the family’s financial struggle is depicted do feel underdone and plastic in some senses. Now one cannot change how things have gone by but that must not mean dwelling on it for more than the required time is ideal. Staple training sequences could have been shot better and cut short without disturbing the essence of the story. The sentimental value of the achievement wouldn’t have been any lesser if Omotoso would have left out parts where the family is victimized with negative connotations.
Among all the glorious pictures we see of the brothers ruling the courts and dominating opponents, the most endearing and compelling was the one where the four brothers were stuffed in a bed, the sheet barely covering them; the parents content on the couch and in each other’s arms for comfort. “If one scores, the entire family scores”. That is what matters the most. When the chips were down and looking beyond the court and its disappointment seemed impossible, the brothers found solace in each other’s encouraging and optimistic words.
‘Rise’ hammers home the importance of a family sticking together and looking out for each other. And when the stakes are this high, “give it your all” from your mother sound like God’s word. You are ordained not to fail. It is almost like Giannis’ hand was guided by a divine light on the day of the Draft trials. All the balls that didn’t go in; all the attacks that fizzled out in the middle; all defenses that were once penetrable. That is what we see. Honestly, that is also what endures in one’s memory rather than the actual hoops, attacks, and defense that win games.
This sports film is not just about athletic brilliance and the inexplicable ability of these distinguished stars on the court – it is about the ruggedness of the human spirit to survive.
Verdict - 7.5/10