I was made aware of the film Hoop through an inquiry from the director, Robert Bell, III (Bern). From the description, it sounds like a typical story of a young man with hoop dreams growing up in a bad situation. I went into Hoop expecting to see a gritty story showing the young man’s early struggles before watching him gain success on the court and fixing all of his problems.
That was not the case.
Hoop is shot artistically and our main character, Hoop Carter (Na’eem Bond), barely says a word himself. There are audio overlays of scenes from classic movies and some black and white scenes as well. Orchestral music sets the tone in the prelude with narrator Behzad Dabu telling us about young Hoop’s upbringing. The film remains in black and white until an older Hoop steps onto a basketball court for the first tryout as he tries to make a local AAU team. The flow of the movie is interesting for sure and that’s what I’ll be breaking down here.
In the early part of the film, we are given exactly what we expect. Hoop being ignored by his mom and his father not being in the picture. Then we meet the closest thing he has to a mentor and father figure in his big brother. His brother who had a chance at making it but didn’t because of an injury late in high school.
We’ve heard the story a million times but it still works, every time. You have my attention Mr. Bell. Let’s see Hoop do what his brother didn’t!
In the middle, things pick up and the character with the most lines in the film appears in the coach of the local AAU team I mentioned earlier. Kevin J. Harris is believable as the stern Head Coach of a serious travel team that wins games and doesn’t play any. He sets the tone early by letting the boys there know what’s at stake and pushes them during his drills to see what they’ve got.
That’s when I started to develop questions. Immediately I realize that Hoop is smaller than most of the other boys out here. That’s fine, perhaps that’s just another obstacle he is poised to overcome. However, as they show him running through the drills he doesn’t look great. In fact, he looks bad. He ends up being forced to run laps for most of the first tryout after messing up a drill and any shot at redemption seems bleak.
So how is he going to turn it around?
After a rough first day, things don’t get much better for Hoop. He comes back the second day and gets injured. He was being outplayed anyway but the injury isn’t going to help. That’s when the movie really starts to show its true purpose.
Hoop should be done, he can barely walk, but he still shows up for the final practice. He limps up and down the court in scrimmages and shows a ton of heart. He’s not a great player but he has a ton of heart and he seems to be refusing to give up.
How is this going to impact his odds of getting the one available spot? Some of the other guys actually looked like they could play.
Look, I don’t like to spoil movies. I’ve said more in this review than I usually do with regard to plot. What I will say is that what happens after the final practice brings everything together in a way I didn’t expect. It reminded me somewhat of one of my favorite movies, Whiplash, and I think I’d be very interested in seeing a sequel.
What I liked
I went into Hoop with certain expectations and spent most of the movie feeling like the vision wasn’t being executed. However, when the final credits rolled I realized that Robert did execute his vision for the story he was telling. It was just a story you aren’t meant to understand until the very last word.
I look at Hoop like an album from a lyrical rapper. There are things you won’t have caught the first time through that will only make sense when you play it back. My favorite rapper Skyzoo likes to call his lines frisbees. They’ll go over your head unless you’re trying to catch them. Watching Hoop a second time, I truly appreciated what Robert did here and will look forward to seeing what he does next.
I’ll leave you with this quote from the film.
“When you love something it doesn’t matter if it loves you back, you don’t just quit. Even when it doesn’t talk back to you.” – Comet, Hoop’s girlfriend (Sianni Martin)
Hoop is currently available on Amazon Prime video.
PS: On the second watch I caught that Hoop and his girl were watching the Finals series between Iverson’s 76ers and the Shaq and Kobe Lakers in one of the scenes. Very nice touch.