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Brian's Song

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This made for TV movie is often brought up as one of the best sports movies ever, about the friendship between future hall of famer Gale Sayers and his fellow rookie running back and roommate Brian Piccolo.  They make an excellent duo in the backfield, until Piccolo's production suddenly suffers.  He is sent back to Chicago, and it's discovered that he has lung cancer.

Brian's Song is certainly predictable, though the director and writer acknowledge this.  The beginning of the movie has the narrator saying "Ernest Hemingway once said 'Every true story ends in death.' Well, this is a true story."  The movie isn't trying to build suspense, however, it is trying to paint a portrait of a friendship, and so doesn't suffer from giving away the ending.

No, what really should set apart a friendship drama is genuine feeling.  Somewhere in this, Brian's Song misses.  James Caan delivers a surprisingly one-dimensional performance as the garrulous Brian.  It smells a little bit of TV movie dumbing down, in order to make the movie more palatable and simplistic for a TV audience.  The chemistry is there between Billie Dee Williams (as Sayers) and Caan, but it's also often grounded in banter that rings false.  I think it may be because there's not enough back and forth dialogue.  Instead, much of the dialogue follows standard timing of 1) set-up, 2) response, 3) punch-line, which is the way people talk on sitcoms, but not the way that I've ever had a real-life conversation.

Sometimes the movie manages to overcome its script.  The race between Piccolo and Sayers is a great scene of fraternity.  The splicing of real football footage is really fascinating, as you get to see just how dominating Sayers can be.  And Jack Warden as George Halas delivers a strong performance.  But in the end, Brian's Song just has too many eye-rolling moments to really be good.

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