Debaters Inspires, Critics Argue

Film may play it by wrote, but it does it with conviction
By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 25, 2007 5:01 PM CST

(Newser) The Great Debaters, which follows a Jim Crow-era black debate team, aims only for “inspirational pop entertainment in the Oprah Winfrey mode,” but it still manages to resonate, says the New York Times’ Stephen Holden. It is conventional, and sometimes clichéd, in telling the classic underdog story. “The wonder is that (it) transcends its own simplifying and manipulative ploys,” Holden says. “It radiates nobility of spirit.”

Denzel Washington’s second directorial effort feels “smoother and more confident,” says Newsweek’s David Ansen. His young actors find “subtleties and grace notes in roles that could have been clichés.” Nearly everyone complains that the team miraculously draws the “good” side of every debate, but anything else would disrupt the flow, says Roger Ebert, “and the flow becomes a mighty flood.”