Amateur movie review: Basketball film is more about commercialisation of sports than the game itself

Bhaskar Chattopadhyay

April 19, 2018 13:58:40 IST


The world of American professional sports can be a deceptively slippery surface, and needless to say, the path leading up to it is even more tricky to navigate. This comes into focus in Ryan Koo’s latest sports drama titled Amateur, which highlights the many challenges that a 14-year-old eighth-grader has to face to make his dream of playing professional basketball come true.

Nimble-footed high school basketball phenomenon Terron Forte (played brilliantly by Michael Rainey Jr.) has everything going for him on court. Outside of it, though, he has a few problems in life. Terron has a condition named dyscalculia, which renders him unable to read or comprehend numbers or perform even simple arithmetical calculations. His father, an athlete who excelled in as many as three sports in his time, now has problems keeping a job, because severe concussions while playing football left him with an unreliable memory. All this is made up for by Terron’s loving and protective mother, of course, but the teenager wants to break free of the neighbourhood and local school courts to make it big in life. When a coach spots him and offers to enroll him into an elite school coaching programme, Terron sees it as his breakout moment. His mother is not convinced though, and fears that her son might end up just like his father in the absence of a proper college education. She lets her son go, but as it turns out, the programme is way more shady than was described by the coach. Not one to give up so easily, young Terron concentrates on his game and tries to manipulate the system with whatever limited understanding he has of the big bad world out there, winning friends and fans along the way, until a time comes when he has to act way past his age to make some serious decisions about his life and the way he wants to build his career.

Poster for Amateur. Image courtesy Netflix

Poster for Amateur. Image courtesy Netflix

The best thing about the film is its rock solid performances. Michael Rainey Jr. looks comfortable in the shoes of a teenaged boy with lofty dreams in his eyes, and he will not be stopped by anything or anyone that comes between him and his goals. Audiences may want to look out for Rainey Jr. because it’s easy to see that he is here to stay. He has a screen presence that’s easy on the eyes, and an intelligent and composed demeanour that immediately makes us root for him. Some of the early on-court scenes showing him dodging defenders and shooting the ball through the net are thrilling, to say the least. Sharon Leal as Terron’s caring mother and Josh Charles as Coach Gaines also play their part beautifully. Brian White plays Terron’s ‘old man’ with admirable sincerity. The way he hides his insecurities and tries to present himself as an individual to look up to is one of the highlights of the film.

Where the film does falter though, is the disproportionate amount of time it spends focusing on the corruption in the system, as compared to the game itself. One wonders if the film would not leave at least a trace of doubt in the minds of those youngsters aspiring to become professional basketball players in the future. Why the makers did not want to highlight the beauty of the game and chose, instead, to focus on the many shady obstacles along the way that an amateur has to overcome, is beyond one’s comprehension.

There is some delightful camerawork to be savoured, but sadly, it's nothing you haven’t seen before. The film’s score too is pretty weak, hurriedly put together and lacks the gut-punch that ought to have accompanied such a subject. Another irritating aspect of the film is its dubbing, which comes across as unnatural and artificial.

Amateur is a decent effort that tries to make a valid point, but ends up trying a tad too hard. In the end, it is a film that is more about the corruption and commercialisation of the game of basketball than about the game itself. And that leaves us with a sense of hopelessness that doesn’t go well with the genre.

Amateur is currently streaming on Netflix. Watch the trailer here:

Updated Date: Apr 19, 2018 13:58 PM