Home of the Giants (2007)

29 Jan

500full

Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Home of the Giants” may seem to you like an average high school basketball movie in the same league as “Hoosiers” (indeed, this film takes place in Indiana), but you’d be wrong to assume that. Actually, describing what it really is might lose the film of its dignity, but I’ll try and make it seem as special as possible, because the truth is I really liked this movie.

“Home of the Giants” is actually a coming-of-age high school drama mixed with a crime thriller. It involves two teenage friends—a basketball jock, Matt (Ryan Merriman), who plays for his team called the Giants, and his entourage, Gar (Haley Joel Osment), who writes for the school paper. Matt is the big man on campus and can pretty much get away with anything. That’s how Gar sees Matt—he looks to Matt like a role model just as Matt looks to his ex-con older brother Keith (Kenneth Mitchell) as a role model. Keith has a job for Matt, and Matt fills Gar in on the plan to break into a possible drug dealer’s house and steal what is said to be a fortune. Gar isn’t so sure at first, but Matt talks him into it. But on the night of the heist, the guy (Brent Briscoe) comes home and it seems that Keith has cut off a finger or two while interrogating him. The days after, Matt and Gar find themselves in hot water, as the ticked-off guy stalks them and sends threatening notes, saying he plans to cut off Matt’s fingers as well. As you can plainly tell from that plot description, “Home of the Giants” is not your typical teen film.

The story development for “Home of the Giants” is smarter than you might think. The main conflict that these two kids face, other than the consequences they fear for themselves, is the difference between their friends and their heroes. If you help the person you look up to the most, why exactly are you doing that? Would he help you in a jam to return the favor? Is this really the person you’d want to be like? Etc. This is what makes “Home of the Giants” more of a coming-of-age story than anything else. The basketball scenes and the crime drama mesh surprisingly well together, and lead to a great payoff that comes with the final basket—I hardly ever felt as much suspense as I did with the final basket at the end of the final basketball game in a movie. Even the little details feel authentic, compared to most movies that feature high school sports. For example, neither of the boys’ fathers is abusive or a one-dimensional jerk that just slows things down for them. They have their reasons for worrying about their sons.

But there’s one very important element that I want to bring up. Whenever Matt wants Gar to do something that Gar doesn’t really want to do, Matt pulls the “I thought we were friends” card and Gar goes through with it. I’ve been through that situation many times with a high school friend before. Back in high school, I was an average guy and I was constantly caught between my friends, my heroes, and those who just tried to drag me down. I related to the character of Gar throughout this movie.

Speaking of whom, Haley Joel Osment, as Gar, has stepped out of his bright-little-boy roles and is acting his age. His acting isn’t as awkward as his obvious early-puberty stage in “Secondhand Lions.” As a conflicted high school student, Osment is totally convincing and sympathetic. Ryan Merriman is solid and winning as Matt, Kenneth Mitchell is suitably smarmy as Keith, and Brent Briscoe, almost reprising his similarly-slimy bad-guy role in “A Simple Plan,” has a good moment or two when he’s not merely looking intimidating. I wish that cute Danielle Panabaker, as Gar’s potential girlfriend Bridgette, had more to do, but she makes the most of her scenes.

“Home of the Giants” may sound like an odd idea for a coming-of-age high school drama, but it’s handled nicely and it’s neither dumb nor boring. The acting is solid, the direction is well-done, and the message of friends and heroes is very effective. This is a great film for teenagers who should seek this out, because it will be worth their time, and I think they’ll even see themselves portrayed here as well.

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