King Kong ain't got nuthin' on these debaters! This true story of Wiley College's first debate team is actually an intellectual sports movie. It's got all the rousing formula of the classic genre, but it's all brain power.
Review: The Great Debaters
Start with Denzel Washington as Professor Tolson, the Mr. Personality teacher. He makes fun of students and they still like him. He provokes them to think. He makes debate theory fascinating.
There are training montages with wild techniques to encourage powerful voices. Other montages involve studying, which is like training. They kind of fit all the sports clichés in too. There are conflicts within the team, the hardass mentor, setbacks that arise at inopportune times and even a Rudy character. The climax is not a championship, but an equally significant final competition.
You could just close your eyes and listen to all the debates. Even the old issues are fascinating and they're not that old. There is some application today, and they speak to noble values.
It's kind of like a low pressure courtroom drama because no one's life is on the line. They are just ideas being debated. Victory impacts nothing but opinions, although maybe the audience will consider the real issues in their own lives.
The film shows educated African-Americans dealing with violent, ignorant racists. That real, hardcore violence is scary.
Please understand that I do not mention the formulae to criticize the film. It's actually pretty ingenious to make an intellectual pursuit as rousing as the more visceral genres. I applaud that and I hope it makes today's youth a little smarter, because they're already talking the Idiocracy language.