×

Passing Glory

Andre Braugher has long been viewed in TV circles as the finest actor in America who isn't yet a superstar, and with his masterfully intense performance in this potent made-for-cable docudrama, Braugher's days as a relatively unheralded craftsman appear to be numbered.

Andre Braugher has long been viewed in TV circles as the finest actor in America who isn’t yet a superstar, and with his masterfully intense performance in this potent made-for-cable docudrama, Braugher’s days as a relatively unheralded craftsman appear to be numbered. Winning an Emmy for his brilliant work on NBC’s “Homicide: Life on the Street” was the first indicator. “Passing Glory” takes him one step closer to the rarefied air of the top acting talent.

Braugher hits all the right notes headlining this fact-based Civil Rights-era piece from exec producers Quincy Jones, Magic Johnson and David Salzman that proves not only a fitting tribute to Black History Month, but another gem in TNT’s expanding crown as a purveyor of quality cinema.

Not that “Passing Glory” is a perfect film by any stretch. It is doggedly one-sided and can scarcely control scribe Harold Sylvester’s propensity to speechify. But it is raw and passionate and exquisitely paced, and the acting uniformly dazzles.

Film casts Braugher as Father Joseph Verrett, an idealistic young priest who in the early 1960s lands a position with a Catholic high school in deeply segregationist New Orleans. Father Verrett brings to St. Augusta High his own doggedly color-blind brand of fire and brimstone, igniting the repressed black students with his eloquence, and butting heads over his flamboyance and impulsiveness with his boss, Father Robert Grant (exceptional work from Rip Torn).

After Verrett inherits the job coaching the school’s unbeaten varsity basketball squad, his no-nonsense, gutsy, way-things-oughta-be style opens the eyes of the team’s hot-headed star, Travis Porter (a sizzling perf from newcomer Sean Squire). Porter sees in the fearless Verrett the antithesis of his own battle-scarred dad (Bill Nunn), and he emulates his coach’s ideals and determination to transform the strangulating racial status quo through sheer force of will.

The centerpiece of “Passing Glory” (which also includes fine supporting work from Ruby Dee as Travis’ grandmother) is a basketball game Verrett is able to organize — against all odds and using every weapon in his arsenal, including blackmail — against Jesuit High, an undefeated prep team from the white community. It was a match opposed by almost everyone initially, particularly by the racist father of Jesuit’s top scorer. But it came off, forever changing the dynamic of race relations in the area.

Braugher turns in a deep, multi-layered acting job that pulsates with a kind of primal power. And helmer Steve James, who already showed he knows his way around the world of hoops by directing the acclaimed docu “Hoop Dreams,” again shows an adept hand in crafting some exciting basketball footage, overcoming the usual superficial limitations of the genre. Script by Sylvester, who actually played in the game upon which the film is based, features sprightly interaction and sharp dialogue, with lines like, “Down here, ‘should’ and ‘is’ is a long way apart.”

Entire effort is believable, if perhaps understandably biased. With few exceptions, the black faction is unfailingly heroic and victimized, the whites hostile and almost demonic. But film is lent a welcome ambiguity from Father Verrett’s ungodly actions with a certain sportswriter, inviting the question of what brave humans should do to serve a greater good. Answer: hire Andre Braugher.

Tech credits, from camera to music to editing, are tops.

Passing Glory

TNT; Sun. Feb. 21, 8 p.m. ET/PT

  • Production: Filmed in Atlanta by Magic Johnson Entertainment and Quincy Jones/David Salzman Entertainment in association with Rosemont Prods. Intl., Ltd. Executive producers, Quincy Jones, David Salzman, Earvin "Magic" Johnson; co-executive producer, David A. Rosemont; producer, Gordon Wolf; director, Steve James; writer, Harold Sylvester
  • Crew: Camera, Bill Butler; production designer, Maxine Shepard; editor, Paul Seydor; music, Stephen James Taylor; sound, Jim Hawkins; casting, Jaki Brown, Robyn M. Mitchell, Shay Bentley Griffin. 2 HOURS
  • Cast: Father Joseph Verrett - Andre Braugher Father Robert Grant - Rip Torn Travis Porter - Sean Squire Mommit Porter - Ruby Dee Howard Porter - Bill Nunn Mike Malone Sr. - Daniel Hugh Kelly Chick Viola - Tony Colitti Mike Malone, Jr. - Anderson Bourell Heatwave Hundley - Khalil Kain Clanky - Tony Bond Boo - Khaz B. Antoine Toussaint - Darris Love <b>With:</b> Elimu Nelson, Damien Wayans, Brett Rice, John Lawhorn, Shawn Wright, Tom Turbiville, Frank Hoyt Taylor, Angela Mills, Arthur Agee, Bill Ewin, Thomas Byrd.