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Monday, November 4, 2013

That Championship Season (released in 1982) - Starring Robert Mitchum, Martin Sheen, Bruce Dern, Stacy Keach and Paul Sorvino

They met more than decades ago, with the adrenalin pumping enthusiasm of sportsmen, soaring on the wings of their victory - they now meet again to savor the aftertaste. The year was 1957; the basketball team of Fillmore High School in Scranton had won the Pennsylvania State High School Basketball Championship. The School, and the story, though fictional are roman à clef. The original was a Pulitzer and Tony winning play by Jason Miller, which also won the New York Drama Critics Award as the Best Play of the season in 1971-72. The movie is directed by Miller himself. Twenty five years later - George Sitkowski (played by Bruce Dern), James Daley (played by Stacy Keach), Phil Romano (played by Paul Sorvino), Tom Daley (played by Martin Sheen) and Coach Delaney (played by Robert Mitchum) reminisce and celebrate the years they’ve dwelt on their past glory, as life has dealt a harsh hand to some of them.
George, the Mayor of Scranton, is facing a much younger candidate in the election. James is his campaign manager and a high school principal - he hates having to wait hand and foot on George. The election campaign is aided by Phil Romano, an established and wealthy businessman – the arrangement suits both of them, as each gains leverage from the campaign. James' brother Tom is an alcoholic and failed writer who rarely comes to such dos – the four reunite with former coach, Delaney - retired and ulcerated. Nevertheless, he will always remain their guide, a man who believes in "lean and mean" ethics and counsels his team to "never take less than success." Delaney idolizes Teddy Roosevelt.

The film deals with the sensitive issue of time passing by - and how, even the best give in to the vagaries of age. The atmosphere gets maudlin after the initial euphoria of reuniting and reveling in the past settles down. The four men are at crossroads once more, and at loggerheads with where life has brought them - they’re far from contented with their lot and the only respite they have from the drudgery of the present, and the uncertainty of the future - is the familiarity of the past, like a comfortable pair of old shoes in the closet.
On the other hand is grand old man Coach Delaney - who is still brimming with ‘on-the-field’ enthusiasm to buck his former team players along; only this time, they have to win at the game of life, and the clock’s ticking fast before its games up for them! Before you start to feel sorry for them, a bit of insight into their personal lives would have you know that blackmail, racism, cheating - have all ruled the roost at some point of time in their lives. Their frustration stems more from the fact that despite having had the talent and the verve, yet, they have given up so easily in life. Jason Miller wrote the play and script of the film when he was yet unemployed as an actor – perhaps some of his struggle to get to that hallowed stage of fame, may have contributed to the realism in the story.
The ensemble cast of the film was memorable for its performances – each character seemed almost tailor made for the respective actor, especially Robert Mitchum, who replaced William Holden, as the latter had passed away before the actual filming took place. 
That Championship Season (released in 1982) - Starring Robert Mitchum, Martin Sheen, Bruce Dern, Stacy Keach and Paul Sorvino

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