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Buena Vista Home Video presents
Through the Fire (2006)

"If you ain't from New York, you're from the country."
- Sebastian Telfair

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: March 22, 2006

Stars: Sebastian Telfair
Other Stars: Rick Pitino, Stephon Marbury
Director: Jonathan Hock

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 01h:42m:52s
Release Date: March 14, 2006
UPC: 786936698633
Genre: sports


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B B+B+B- B-

DVD Review

NBA or college? It's not a dilemma that most of us have to face, but it is a choice for those few players gifted enough as seniors in high school to have a fighting chance to make it in the world of professional basketball. The crazy big money signings of players like LeBron James and Kevin Garnett, who went right from high school to the pros, has put stars in the eyes of many high school players; of course the playgrounds are littered with young men who believed the hype, who were sure that they were the next big thing, and found out that in fact they didn't have the skills to compete at the highest level.

This streetwise documentary is a look at the senior year in high school of Sebastian Telfair, a point guard from Brooklyn, and about the monumental decisions he needs to make about his future. (If you're a hoops fan, you know where this is headed, so the fun of the film is in the journey, not the destination.) Telfair and his family are clear that basketball is the only way out of their bad neighborhood, and they've already witnessed success first hand: Telfair's cousin is Stephon Marbury, currently the discontented point guard for the Knicks, who grew up in the same project, and after turning pro bought his mother a house and cruises around the old 'hood in his Bentley. The path isn't always that easy, though, and Telfair knows this from experience as well—his brother, Jamel Thomas, played four years at Providence College, but was bypassed by the NBA, and now makes his living as a journeyman pro player in Greece.

What's kind of refreshing about Telfair and his family, and about the film, is that they don't even bother paying hypocritical lip service to the idea of getting an education. Obviously this could work to the player's detriment—he and every other pro prospect is just an ACL injury away from having their NBA hopes dashed, from being just one more playground casualty. But for Telfair, academics at both the high school and collegiate levels are a necessary evil, at best—he signs his letter of intent with the University of Louisville not because he's so impressed with the school's faculty or with the earning power of a Louisville diploma, but entirely because of Rick Pitino, the university's head basketball coach.

Aside from his family connections, Telfair is exceptional as a pro prospect because of his modest stature. He's listed as six feet tall, but 5'10" seems like a more accurate assessment—he'll never be a big man dominating the lane, and he hopes to be a floor captain in the manner of Isiah Thomas and Allen Iverson (both of whom went to college). Then again, neither of them were on the cover of Sports Illustrated as schoolboys, and it's got to be heady stuff to look into the stands at your high school games and see not just a passel of pro scouts, but Derek Jeter, Ahmad Rashad and Jay-Z, and to have a handful of your games broadcast on national television. Anybody without a financial stake in NCAA basketball can see what the rational economic decision is, and hence what's sort of hyped here as the climactic moment of the film is in fact pretty much a foregone conclusion. The portrait of Telfair and his family is a warm one, though—this skinny young man is the vehicle for all of their hopes and aspirations, and you're pulling for them, even if, cinematically, this doesn't measure up to Hoop Dreams, which really is the Citizen Kane of high school basketball documentaries. But the genuine outpouring of emotion on draft day—even if Telfair had already cut his deal with adidas, for something like $6 million, undercuts it—is moving, and is full of the kind of heartfelt feeling that's so absent from the overcoached media appearances by almost all big-time athletes today.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The movie was shot on high-end video, and hence will look right at home on your TV. Contrast tends to be a little high, but it's been transferred pretty clearly.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The 5.1 track is a little much, and the cinema vérité feeling is undercut by some overscoring. Also, this is billed as an "uncensored" edition, which essentially means that the profanity that was bleeped out when the movie was aired on ESPN can be heard here in all its glory.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 19 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Codebreakers, ESPN and ESPN2 HD
19 Deleted Scenes
2 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Jonathan Hock and cinematographer Alastair Christopher
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Easter egg
Extras Review: The best parts of the extras package is of Telfair cutting loose, on the court and off—nothing that will floor you here, but there is some fun stuff. A set (14m:27s) of nine deleted scenes starts with Telfair's high school team going up to the sticks to compete for the New York State championship, but the better stuff comes from Telfair's trip to the McDonald's All-America game, a high school all-star affair, held in Oklahoma City. He and the other players visit the memorial at the sight of the Murrah Building, and get a locker room visit from Carmelo Anthony. ('Melo, I'll be forever grateful to you for going to college, if only for a year.) The next group of four scenes are from Telfair's pre-draft workouts, with his brother, in Greece.

Extended interviews fill in some of the gaps for those who didn't read the New York tabloid back pages every day. Three are with Telfair, along with conversations with Pitino on the virtues of a point guard getting some seasoning in college; Thomas, on basketball and his family; and Tiny Morton, Telfair's high school coach. There are also four clips of hoops highlights, the best of which shows Telfair having fun on the Coney Island playground.

An excerpt (05m:46s) from The Life shows Marbury's homecoming, showing off his sweet new ride for the people he grew up with in Coney Island; and Telfair is joined on stage by the filmmakers for a post-screening Q and A (06m:28s) from the TriBeCa Film Festival. Director Jonathan Hock and cinematographer Alastair Christopher provide a commentary track, going over their relationship with Telfair and his family—they were reasonably receptive to the presence of a film crew, but they weren't going to stop their lives to ensure that the documentarians got just the right shot. Finally, on the extras menu, click on Telfair's jersey number to see a clip of him in the locker room, showing off some of his best between-the-legs moves with the rock.

Extras Grade: B-

 

Final Comments

It doesn't bristle with tension, really, and a quick glance at the sports section will spoil the ending for you, but this is a sharp and empathetic look at a young man weighing life-changing decisions, and you'll find yourself rooting for him and his family, no matter your NBA team loyalties. I love this game.

 


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