Terrence Howard is the one bright spot in the otherwise mediocre inspirational sports flick Pride. It's loosely based on the true story of James Ellis, an African-American who founded a premier swimming academy in one of Philadelphia's toughest neighborhoods in the early 1970s.
As Ellis, Howard plays a different kind of coach than we're used to seeing in the standard underdog sports movie. Reserved and methodical, Ellis is a far cry from the loud, charismatic types we normally see in these films. There are no rousing speeches to inspire the troops; a simple nod or a scowl does the trick for Ellis. It's an ideal role for Howard, an actor capable of holding our attention without uttering a single word.
The story follows a standard arch of the underdog sports movie: a rag-tag group of amateurs is molded into a cohesive unit of elite athletes, all in the span of three acts. Pride spices things up by throwing incendiary issues of racism in the mix, playing on the stereotype of African-Americans as inferior swimmers. Both Ellis and his team encounter bigotry by the bowlful during their ascendance to the top, especially from those spoiled rich kids from the snooty Main Line Academy, led by the arrogant Coach Bink (Tom Arnold).
I'd be remiss if I didn't add the following note: when asked about the authenticity of the film during the press day for Pride, the real-life Jim Ellis simply responded, "Well, they got my name right." He went on to say that most of the instances of racism depicted in the film never actually occurred. Now, Pride is billed as "inspired by" the true story of Ellis, so the producers had plenty of wiggle room when crafting the story. Inserting bigotry where there might not have been any, however, feels unnecessarily exploitive.
Pride is also hampered by the fact that competitive swimming is simply not a very cinematic sport. Most of the action takes place underwater, with competitors clad in goggles and swim caps. Though director Sunu Gonera employs a variety of camera tricks in an order to make the action look more appealing, his effort ultimately falls short.