Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Great White Hope

It's made clear early on in Martin Ritt's The Great White Hope that Jack Jefferson (James Earl Jones, who's basically Jack Johnson in all but name) has controversy following him like a bad smell. There are many things that have earned him a bad reputation, none more so than his relationship with Eleanor Bachman (Jane Alexander).

This being made a few years after the Loving v. Virginia ruling, there are several aspects of The Great White Hope that make it more dated than it should be. It focuses more on the matter of race more than anything else happening in the film. Sure, it might have been daring stuff back in 1970 but it doesn't hold water in 2016.

Similarly, The Great White Hope seems conflicted as to which subject to focus on solely: Jack and Eleanor's relationship (and what those around them feel about it) or his boxing career. Again, this is set in the 1910s so racism was unfortunately commonplace. But even then it feels heavyhanded. (Then again, subtlety wasn't really a known aspect in other titles from the 1970s.)

Now if the film hasn't held up, what of Jones and Alexander's work in The Great White Hope? Admittedly he's forever known for Star Wars and she's the lesser-known of the multi-nominated actors, but overall they don't really provide anything groundbreaking. Maybe back then they did but certainly don't now.

The Great White Hope was perhaps something of high quality upon its release but it certainly hasn't held up decades later. (Hey, not everything from the 1970s was good.) All in all, only see it if you're going through every Oscar-nominated performance.

My Rating: ***

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