The Express (2008) [Blu-ray]

Genre(s): Biographical / Drama / Sports
Universal || PG - 120 minutes - $39.98 || January 20, 2009
Reviewer: Elyusha Vafaeisefat || Posted On: 2009-02-25

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.:: F I L M ::.
The Film

.: F E A T U R E S :.

Special Features

.:: V I D E O ::.

.:: A U D I O ::.

B L U - R A Y

Blu-ray Exclusives

.:: O V E R A L L ::.
Director: Gary Fleder
Writer(s): Robert Gallagher (book); Charles Leavitt (written by)
Cast: Rob Brown, Dennis Quaid

Theatrical Release Date: October 10, 2008

Supplemental Material:
  • Feature Commentary
  • 5 Featurettes
  • Deleted Scenes

Technical Information:
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Widescreen (2.40)
  • DTS-HD MA 5.1: English
  • Subtitles: English, French

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.::THE FILM::.

The triumphant stories of Jackie Robinson, Jesse Owens, Jack Johnson and Muhammad Ali are well known as stories of African American athletes breaking barriers and challenging the unfortunate prejudices of their respective times. What many people may not know is the story of Ernie “The Express” Davis. Davis defied critics and coaches attending Syracuse University as he became the first African American athlete to win college football’s most prized individual award, The Heisman Trophy. Davis was also a part of one of the greatest college football seasons of all time as he led Syracuse to the 1959 National Championship game capping of an undefeated year. Davis also earned All-American honors twice in his time at Syracuse. Unfortunately, Davis’ life was cut short at the age of 23 due to a battle with Leukemia.

This is without question one of the most inspirational but at the same time saddest sports stories of all time. When I heard a film was going to be made about Davis, I was happy that more people would learn of his accomplishments. Unfortunately, the film is not able to capture Davis’ short lived but amazing football career. The film is directed by Gary Fleder who is known for making second rate thrillers such as Kiss the Girls, Don’t Say a Word and Runaway Jury. While Fleder’s attempt at the film is valiant, he still comes short thanks to a rather routine script and an unnecessarily long running time. Rob Brown takes on the role of Ernie Davis. On the other side, Dennis Quaid plays the role of Ben Schwartzwalder, the reluctant coach who eventually sees the natural talent that Davis possesses. Brown brings a great deal of strength and honesty to the role while Quaid does a fine job as Schwartzwalder. I actually didn’t really have a problem with either of the lead performances. In fact, the actors selected throughout the film are all capable but they are brought down by generic and contrived dialogue.

We get a great deal of scenes that are rather familiar in terms of racism aimed at Davis and other African American athletes. Not to say that the events did not happen but I think the writing as well as the directing makes the racial scenes quite stereotypical. A better writer could most certainly make these scenes work even though most all moviegoers are familiar with these types of scenes. Nonetheless, Fleder does a good job with the actual filmmaking in terms of technique. He uses a combination of black and white film, filters and stock footage among other techniques. In the commentary, Fleder even mentions that Oliver Stone’s JFK was of great influence to him. Though I would consider that a stretch, Fleder does a good job with the tools he is given.

The film is worth seeing simply because of Davis’ story but there is no question that there is a better film to be made of his life. Even so, those who are not familiar with Ernie Davis and his influence on college football will be surprised to see the barriers he (along with his mentor Jim Brown) broke down in a time when African Americans were treated as second class citizens. The film’s 125 minute running time is most certainly felt but the truly inspiring and melancholy story makes the film worth sitting through.


Feature Commentary with Director Gary Fleder - This is perhaps one of the most unusual commentaries I have ever heard because Fleder spends a good portion of the commentary saying how he does not like particular parts of his film. I don’t think I can remember a commentary in recent memory in which the director bad mouths his own film and wishes he could change a number of scenes. He also says the writing in some of the scenes was too generic. Nonetheless, it is an interesting and honest commentary.

The Making of The Express is a standard 13 minute look at what attracted Gary Fleder along with the rest of the cast and crew to the film. Fleder discusses that he wanted to make this film because Ernie Davis’ story was much more than just a sports story. It was a story of triumph within the context of the civil rights era.

Making History: The Story of Ernie Davis is a 13 minute look at the stories friends and family of Davis have about him. Fellow athletes Jim Brown and Floyd Little discuss Davis’ integrity and character on and off the field. We also get to hear firsthand accounts of Davis’ amazing talents along with his big heart.

The next extra is Inside the Playbook: Shooting the Football Games. This is a 7 minute “play by play” of how director Gary Fleder and Allan Graf designed the football scenes in the film. The aimed at capturing the authenticity while at the same time recreating the events of those games.

From Hollywood to Syracuse: The Legacy of Ernie Davis starts off as a tribute to what he left behind as a man and as an athlete. We see people discussing the way Davis changed the way we look at football but then the second half of the featurette becomes some sort of a PSA for Syracuse University.

There are also 3 deleted scenes that run about 7 minutes. Once again, Fleder provides an honest commentary on each of these scenes.

The last extra is a ** Blu-Ray Exclusive ** looking at the 50th Anniversary of the 1959 Syracuse National Championship. This 16 minute extra takes us back with firsthand accounts from 8 players from that National Championship team. This is the most interesting of the extra features because we get a personal account and stories from the players about Coach Schwartzwalder and Ernie Davis.


The audio is presented in a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that comes off screen very well. As with most sports movie, the sound quality means a great deal to the overall experience and I must say that they did a fine job with creating an all around great experience in terms of sound.

The same can be said about the video transfer which is presented in 2.40:1 1080p widescreen. Director Gary Fleder uses a number of techniques in to create a different look for each stage in Ernie Davis’ career. The picture is crisp and detailed.


While the The Express does fall short of properly bringing Ernie Davis’ story to the film world, the film is still worth renting. Davis’ story should be known just as well as we know Jackie Robinson or Muhammad Ali’s respective stories. For those who are fans of the film, the Blu-Ray disc provides a number of extras and the high quality of the sound and video transfers make the film worth buying for the high definition experience.