Two years ago, Terrence Howard either starred or co-starred in a Samuel L. Jackson-esque seven films. With an Oscar nomination under his belt and nine more films in various stages of production, Howard now receives access to much better scripts, and it clearly shows in his latest inspirational film, “Pride.”
Based on a true story, the film, which can best be described as “Coach Carter” meets “Akeelah and the Bee,” finds Howard playing Jim Ellis, who started a successful swim program in Philadelphia during the mid-1970s. When racism took away his opportunity to be successful, it opened the door for him to use his gift to touch the lives of countless others.
The story begins in 1964, as we follow a young Ellis (Howard) at a swim meet with his college team, historically Black Cheney State. The only African American on his swim team, Ellis meets resistance from disrespectful jeering Whites who refuse to swim in the pool with him. During a resulting melee, Ellis strikes a police officer and is dismissed from his team.
Fast forward 10 years, and Ellis is in Philadelphia, pursuing a job as a swim teacher at an exclusive private school, Main Line Academy. He is summarily dismissed after a brief “interview” with a racist school administrator, Bink (Tom Arnold), who claims that they need someone who can “communicate with their students.” After a job search, he is given a temporary assignment helping to close down a rundown youth center.
What he finds is an old maintenance man, Elston (Bernie Mac), who initially is suspicious of his motives, and a group of kids who play basketball outside but never step foot inside the dilapidated center. Once their hoop rims are taken down, the kids are faced with a choice: either play at a court across town or come inside where Ellis has opened up the center’s pool.
Once the kids have accepted Ellis invitation, he begins the arduous task of molding them into a swim team. While Ellis has his hands full working with the young adults, Elston enlists the help of council aide Sue Davis (Kimberly Elise) to pull some strings to help keep the center open. In addition, she also rallies the community together to provide additional support for this group of inner-city pioneers.
While this talented trio are doing all they can to provide a safe haven and keep these kids off Philly’s mean streets, they still must contend with the neighborhood drug kingpin, Franklin (Gary Anthony Sturgis). Who will win the power struggle for the kids’ souls? Will his team finally bring home the elusive honor that Ellis never received?
Howard steps into the role of Ellis with mostly positive results. While the film is formulaic and predictable, that doesn’t stop it from being quite enjoyable. His performance in this film does not match the intensity he displayed in “Hustle and Flow” or in the confused vulnerability of “Crash.” In “Pride,” Howard successfully channels his passion and rage to portray the inspirational swim coach.
The end result is a rousing, crowd-pleasing family film that will have audiences’ chests swelling with cinematic “Pride.”