Review: Through The Fire

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The 1994 documentary Hoop Dreams chronicled the efforts of a couple of promising high school basketball players from the slums of Chicago to make it to the NBA. That film followed the two for five years, only to have to report the sad news that they failed to achieve the goal they had invested everything in since grade school.

Through the Fire, directed by Jonathan Hock, is a bio-pic which shares the same theme, only it has a happier ending. For its subject is Sebastian Telfair, a New York City product who presently plays point guard for the Portland Trailblazers. So, although the story has been edited to unfold chronologically to keep the audience on edge about the outcome, that aspect is obviously not a mystery to hoop fans who know that Sebastian was a first round draft pick.

Nonetheless, the picture does an excellent job of showing what life is like for a kid who apparently has been scouted since about the age of six. We get to see that it helps considerably in this regard if you can benefit from the experience of an NBA all-star cousin, Stephon Marbury, and an older brother who once led the Big East in scoring while in college, namely, Jamel Thomas. Because Jamel, inexplicably, was never drafted by the pros, he is particularly determined to make sure that his little brother escapes the same unfortunate fate. So, during Sebastian’s senior year at Lincoln High School in Coney Island he strategizes with his coach and concerned relatives prior to signing a letter of intent to play for Rick Pitino at Louisville.

Still, after making that commitment, the confused 18 year-old is constantly hounded by pro scouts telling him he’s good enough to head straight to the NBA and sign a lucrative sneaker deal. Feeling the pressure to provide for his poverty-stricken family, and undoubtedly seduced by the money being dangled in front of his eyes, Telfair wrestles with whether he ought to break his promise to Pitino. Thus, the debate of whether he’ll pass on college and turn pro provides the palpable tension which sits at the center of Through the Fire.

Shot on location mostly in gyms and ghettoes scattered around Brooklyn, this is a valuable film not because of Telfair’s ultimate triumph, but because of how effectively it contrasts his achievement with the plight of so many other aspiring athletes for whom the fantasy of a pro career fails to materialize. A sobering slap in the face which subtly questions the wisdom of chasing a one-in-a-million dream at the expense of practical academic alternatives.

Excellent (3.5 stars)
Running time: 103 minutes
Studio: Cinema Libre

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