Despite the fact that “The Express” is full of good intentions in examining the life of Ernie Davis, whose impressive on-the-field accomplishments matched his ability to stand up to racial prejudice, this low-performing Universal film was never able to find a way to avoid typical sports cliches. The extras on the DVD offer a bit more insight into Davis’ real-life struggles and accomplishments, but not nearly enough to make it a must buy.
Davis, from the small upstate New York town of Elmira, played at Syracuse U. in the early 1960s in the footsteps of the great Jim Brown, and was the first African-American football player to win the Heisman Trophy. Expectations were so high for Davis, in fact, that they both wore No. 44, and he both met and exceeded them.
Of all the extras, the 14-minute “Making History: The Story of Ernie Davis” offers some of the best insight, including an interview with Brown about the difficulties of playing in a era where black athletes were routinely chastised – not only by both visiting teams and fans but his own teammates as well.
Some of the most thoughtful comments come from sportscasters who are alumni of Syracuse: Dick Stockton and Bob Costas. They put Davis’ on-field accomplishments in proper perspective.
Featurette “The Making of ‘The Express'” discusses director Gary Fleder’s lack of football knowledge, and how he and d.p. Kramer Morgenthau had to figure out the best way to shoot the game sequences. Both were helped immensely by Allan Graf (also an actor, some will know his as the Captain on HBO’s “Deadwood”), a former USC lineman who often acts as a consultant in several productions that involve football.
Overall, though, more archival footage of Davis would’ve been appreciated, and a more-rounded retrospective on his life – not just the rose-colored aspects – would’ve brought greater balance to the biopic.