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The Heart of the Game

(2006) *** Unrated
102 min. Miramax Films.
A sort of Hoop Dreams for girls, Ward Serrill's documentary centers around two characters: Darnellia Russell, an African-American contender who has to battle the system as well as her opponents on the court, and Bill Resler, Darnellia's somewhat eccentric but skilled white coach. A tax professor by day, Resler explains with no false modesty that he has "ideas about basketball that I haven't seen other places," like bringing street ball to the high-school league by eschewing offensive plays, and emphasizing the psyche-out element with themes like "Pack of Wolves" and the directive to "Look in their eyes!" With seven years of footage, Serrill meanders around some interesting supporting characters, but shapes the film to the deceptively polar personalities of Russell and Resler. After a few years roll by in Resler's program, Darnellia faces a personal and legal challenge that threatens to stop her basketball career and education short, making for a suspenseful season. Chris "Ludacris" Bridges narrates this inspirational tale, which values team spirit even as it celebrates the will of two talented individuals.
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