'Jim Brown - All American' *** 032805
DVD Review (2002)

The Work = ****
'Jim Brown - All American' is an entertaining documentary attempting to chart the life of sports legend Jim Brown. I knew he was football player and loved his acting in some of the films that I had seen but knew little else about the man. This documentary provides a broad sketch of his background and history as well as presenting some amazing sports footage.

Jim Brown has quite the stats to his name. I simply had no idea that the man was in the Lacrosse Hall of Fame in addition to the Football Hall of Fame. Well, actually he is in the pro and college Football Hall of Fame’s making him the only athlete in history to be in three. The documentary implies that he probably could have been great in other sports to boot because he seemed to be able to master and competition he entered.

His coaches, early supporters and fellow players speak to his competitive nature. He seemed to have a fierce drive to be number one (and to be correct, not dropping arguments until he won or until the other person gave up.) This determination is no doubt what gave him the strength to persevere in the face of the racism of time. He was actually kept off the field because of the color of his skin but once he was put on the field and given the ball no one could take him off because he was simply that good. (His most amazing stat is that he averaged 5.2 yards every time he got the ball in Football. What that meant is that if ya’ got the ball to Big Jim Brown twice you at least got a first down!)

The documentary follows Brown through a series of interviews with him and others right up until present day (well present day 2002 when it was released.) I was disappointed in the film’s treatment of his acting career. Really, the only focus is the breakdown of racial barriers. While it’s inclusion was good, I wanted more focus on the rest of his career. I mean you watch this film and you’d think the guy stopped acting after ’76.

Why did his career peter out in the ‘80s? How was it having something of a come back in the ‘90s? The documentary ignore both of those questions and many more about his more recent career. In fact some of the racial focus bordered on ludicrous. Film writer Donald Bogle chimes in with his theory that Jim Brown was the answer to Sidney Poitier. (to paraphrase, he says: “'Guess who’s coming to Dinner?' could have been called 'Fear of a Back Man’s Penis'. Uh huh.) That’s not to say that there isn’t merit in what he did by acting in films like '100 Rifles' and 'Slaughter', (films that had prominent sex scenes,) it’s just that there is merit in the man’s career as whole too.

So 'Jim Brown - All American' skimps on Brown’s later film career. It also seems to glide over some of his more controversial run ins with the law. The film does focus on one incident, his most notorious, where he supposedly threw a woman from a balcony. It also goes into a more recent incident involving his current wife. I guess I sound like a gossip fiend wanting more, but it just seems like there could have been an overview of the events, how they affected his life and if they indicate a pattern of violence in his background.

The documentary spends a fair amount of time talking about Jim Brown’s social work. It does not get into how successful his programs are but it does offer that he set up several programs to work with not only the worst of the worst inmates but also to work with young people that might be headed towards a future stay behind bars. It is impressive that Brown seems to have long tried to make a difference and has no problems going after his fellow athletes to get them involved.

'Jim Brown - All American' is a good documentary. Yes, it skips over things I want to hear more about but it does have the involvement of Jim Brown in it. (Hey, you try pestering the guy about some of his controversies; you might become a part of ‘em.) At the end of the day the strengths outway the weaknesses and I say recommended.

DVD = ***

The Look
'Jim Brown - All American' gets a good widescreen anamorphic transfer. The film quality does very but that is really do to the poor nature of some of the archival footage of Jim Brown’s plays and not the fault of the release. The film is presented in it’s intended aspect ratio of 1.85:1.

The Sound
It’s got a pretty decent Dolby Digital 2.0 mix on the DVD. Everything sounded clear and I was able to hear all of the different speakers easily.

The Bonus
Well, there isn’t much here. Really the only feature of note is Spike Lee’s commentary. Problem is, it has a lot of biiiiiiiiig gaps in it. When he does speak Lee often does give interesting tidbits of info but it is so spread out that it is hard to listen to. It’s a shame that there couldn’t have been someone else acting as a moderator on this track because I was interested to hear about the making of the film and Lee’s thoughts on Brown. We do get some of his comments but not enough. There definitely could have been cut footage as I’m sure there was a lot left on the cutting room floor. A making of documentary would have been good too.

All together = ***
'Jim Brown - All American' is an entertaining documentary on a living sports legend. While I would have like to have seen more on Brown’s later acting career and more on his controversial brushes with the law, it is still an enjoyable documentary. Spike Lee is obviously a big fan of Brown and this is a fan’s tribute. Fans of Brown should check it out and the curious who liked documentaries should give it a try too.


'Jim Brown - All American' Links:


Copyright 2005 - 2012 Nate Bundy. All rights reserved.