The Great Debaters


Action / Biography / Drama / Romance

IMDb Rating 7.5 10 54784


Uploaded By: OTTO
February 16, 2012 at 12:03 AM


Denzel Washington as Melvin B. Tolson
Glen Powell as Harvard Debater #1
Forest Whitaker as Dr. James Farmer Sr.
Jurnee Smollett-Bell as Samantha Booke
748.39 MB
English 2.0
23.976 fps
2 hr 6 min
P/S 8 / 91

Movie Reviews

Reviewed by Turfseer 4 / 10

Well-intentioned but formulaic!

'The Great Debaters is inspired by the true-life exploits of the all-black Wiley College debating team in Marshall, Texas in the 1930s. The script follows only the bare outline of the events that actually occurred. The debates themselves and the ideas behind them are a very small part of the picture. Instead we're treated to a series of snippets (or sound bites) with the Wiley team always taking the morally superior position and of course winning. At no time are they asked to show their real skills as debaters and take a position which they ethically and morally oppose. While the true Wiley College debaters of history were certainly admirable for what they achieved, there was no need to put them all on a pedestal by having them best the Harvard Debate team in the film's climax. In reality, Wiley beat USC; by depicting them as beating Harvard, the implication is that somehow they were superstars for beating the best (and hey maybe they were just excellent students who don't need to be mythologized).

The main character, Melvin B. Tolson (played by Denzel Washington) is based on the real Wiley College professor who also was a union organizer. In a scene that felt like it was more likely to take place in the 1960s than the 1930s, Tolson heads a secret meeting of black sharecroppers as well as whites intent on organizing against racist farmers. The meeting is broken up by a group of angry whites and Tolson escapes with his life (along with James Farmer Jr., the 14 year old member of his debating team, later to become a famous civil rights leader). The probability of this scene actually having happened in 1930s Texas is low especially the idea that there were progressive whites who would even consider attending a meeting together with poor black sharecroppers. Later, Tolson is arrested for organizing the union meeting. In reality,wouldn't he have been taken away in the middle of the night and dumped in a shallow grave? Or perhaps lynched? Here, the black community wields a lot more power than it actually had in those days, when a group led by James Farmer Sr., the dignified Wiley professor played by Forrest Whittaker, convinces the town's sheriff to release Tolson on bond. We never really find out the outcome of Tolson's arrest (which presumably is a fictional scene) but according to the end credits, he went on to live a distinguished life as an academic and poet.

The rest of the movie is taken up with a subplot concerning the romance between the team's only female member, Samantha Booke and the bad-boy character, Henry Lowe (who incurs Samantha's wrath by getting drunk and hanging out with another woman after witnessing a lynching). The aforementioned 14 year old has a crush on Samantha and must overcome his feelings of jealousy before he can best Harvard in the final showdown.

The film is not without its powerful moments. The most memorable is when James Farmer Sr. accidentally kills a boar while driving in his car with his family. He's forced to pay compensation to two racist whites by handing over his paycheck and is further humiliated when one of the racists drops the check and makes Farmer bend over and pick it up (it's scenes like this that are far more effective than the typical mob scenes of racist whites on the loose since they show the day-to-day humiliations which blacks had to endure across the country on a daily basis). There is also an actual lynching scene which Tolson and his debaters stumble upon while driving on a darkened road.

Despite this, The Great Debaters is a well-intentioned but formulaic project. Yes, it always feels good to be on the winning side but when drama becomes manipulative, art is subsumed by propaganda.

Reviewed by sbusch-35048 8 / 10

Great acting

This is a movie that checks all the boxes for a based on a true underdog story, but it does it with superb acting, good cinematography and pacing, and powerful scenes. From what I've heard, it takes many liberties with the actual story, but the final product is still gratifying. My only gripe is the cliche story moments (especially in the beginning), but after a few scenes, the story picks up, and leads to a surprisingly emotional climax. I definitely recommend, especially for the acting.

Reviewed by zkonedog 9 / 10

A Great, Non-Confrontational Look At The Jim Crow South

In my opinion, Denzel Washington is the foremost actor (in terms of actual talent, not money making ability) of our generation. Yet, my one beef with him has often been his very sympathetic, almost revisionist-history take on certain race issues, such as Malcolm X or the story of Rubin "Hurricane" Carter. In those types of films, one race can do no wrong while the other is the root of all evil, which (in reality) is usually never the case. When viewing this film, then, I had myself steeled for that sort of thing once again...the "take with a grain of salt" mentality. Fortunately, this movie had zero problems in that area.

The film tells the story of the small Wily College debate team in 1930s Texas (deep in the Jim Crow South) under the tutelage of the famous Melvin Tolson that took on all-comers (big or small) and defeated nearly every one of them. Yet, despite the amazing feats accomplished by that debate team, the real message of this film centers on the actual issues that are being debated, mainly having to do with civil rights or civil disobedience. This is where the debate format comes in very handy, as it allows for both sides of those important issues to be aired in the film. Does some bias show? Yes. Yet, everyone has their own opinion, and the bias that is evident in the film does not go beyond that.

The acting in this movie is also terrific. Washington is at his cool-as-a-cucumber best, while the young acting talent (forming the debate team) is also very strong. The presence of Forest Whitaker is another plus.

Overall, this is a great film that will really get you thinking about the issues that plagued the Jim Crow South. Most importantly, though, you will be able to see both sides of the story before making your decision. While in the film the judges decide who wins each debate, you can decide for yourself what you believe to be the most convincing argument.

Read more IMDb reviews


Be the first to leave a comment