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Film / Hoosiers

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Hoosiers is a 1986 film about Indiana high school basketball, directed by David Anspaugh and starring Gene Hackman.

Hackman stars as Norman Dale, a former big-time college basketball coach who comes to the tiny town Hickory, Indiana in 1951 to coach Hickory High School's equally-tiny basketball team. Dale must overcome his own troubled past, win over the humble-yet-all-the-while-skeptical Hickory townsfolk, and get his players to believe in themselves before the game they play. In his spare time, he romances a schoolteacher played by Barbara Hershey. Dennis Hopper co-stars as "Shooter" Flatch, a former Hickory High basketball star turned alcoholic hobo, who starts on a redemption quest of his own when he becomes one of Dale's coaches.

This film provides examples of:

  • The Ace: Jimmy Chitwood, who will hit just about any shot you ask him to make. The town is very concerned about getting Jimmy to play, as Jimmy has said he won't be playing basketball for the upcoming season.
  • The Alcoholic: Shooter is an unshaven, unkempt alcoholic mess.
  • Ate His Gun: Averted off-screen. After Shooter fell off the proverbial wagon hard one night, during which time he'd humiliated Coach Dale and the entire Hickory team during an important game of theirs, he was later found by his son and Coach Dale, unconscious in a field somewhere with his rifle, having apparently passed out before he could use it on himself. They take him to the hospital to dry out, where he recovers, earning his son's respect for the first time in the process.
  • Bait-and-Switch: At the first meeting between Dale and the men of the town, the town pastor assumes that Coach Dale is a God-abiding Christian man who will invigorate his boys with the way of the Lord—before then asking if Dale will use a zone defense or play man-to-man.
  • Big Game: For the state championship against the seemingly-unbeatable South Bend Central, no less!
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Shooter may be the town drunk, but he knows basketball. Even Dale is impressed with his knowledge enough to hire him as an Assistant Coach.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Coach Dale has settled for a job at rinky-dink Hickory because he was run out of college basketball for punching one of his players.
  • David Versus Goliath: Discussed. Quoted verbatim, in fact: "... and David put his hand in the bag and took out a stone and flung it, and it struck the Philistine in the head, and he fell to the ground. Amen."
  • Down on the Farm: As hayseed of a Midwestern American town as it gets, populated by nothing but farmers.
  • Down to the Last Play: "I'll make it." (The real game actually did end in a buzzer-beater shot to win the title.)
  • Everytown, America: The humble hamlet of Hickory, Indiana, populated by simple rural folk whose lives practically revolve around the high school basketball team.
  • Glory Days: Shooter was once a high school basketball star. The memory haunts him, at least when he compares it to the wreck his life has become.
  • Graceful Loser: The South Bend coach consoles a dejected player, then pleasantly shakes hands with Dale after losing.
  • Hope Bringer: Jimmy The Ace rejoining the basketball team on the condition that Coach Dale stays is taken seriously by everyone and turns the season around for the team.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: Count how many shots Jimmy Chitwood takes, and how many of them he makes, over the course of the movie.
    • What's even more improbable? The scene where Jimmy shoots basket after basket while Coach Dale talks to him was shot in one take.
    • And then he misses the final shot of the scene after Coach has finished, foreshadowing that maybe the talk got to him.
  • Market-Based Title: Released in the UK as Best Shot, as "Hoosier" is a somewhat-colloquial term referring to someone from Indiana.
  • Opposing Sports Team: Averted. South Bend Central appears to be a perfectly sportsmanlike team.
  • The Quiet One: Jimmy Chitwood says hardly anything over the course of the film other than his short "I reckon it's time for me to start playing ball" speech at the town meeting, and "I'll make it" at the end when they're talking about who should take the last shot.
  • Real Person Cameo:
    • The PA announcer for the state final was played by Tom Carnegie, who was the TV play-by-play announcer for the actual 1954 state final (see "Very Loosely Based on a True Story" below).
    • The radio announcer for the state final was played by Hilliard Gates, who filled the same role for the actual 1954 final.
    • South Bend Central's head coach was played by Ray Crowe, who also had a connection to the real-life basis of the story. In the real 1954 state tournament, he was head coach of the segregated Crispus Attucks High School of Indianapolis, which lost in the state quarterfinals to the film's real-life basis, Milan High.Postscript 
    • According to IMDb, Bobby Plump, the very loose basis for Jimmy Chitwood, has a cameo as well.
  • Redemption Quest: For the disgraced Norman Dale.
    • Shooter too, for his whole wasted life, as well as for disgracing his son.
  • Rousing Speech:
    • The "winners" speech gets the Slow Clap of approval from the team.
    • A short and subdued one that shows what a master Coach Dale is at motivating his team. The Hickory kids walk into the arena in Indianapolis and are awed by the sheer size of the place, and how it dwarfs their little gym. Coach Dale then whips out a tape measure and demonstrates that the dimensions of the court are exactly the same as the ones for their court back in Hickory.
  • Serious Business: The people of Hickory really, REALLY care about the high school basketball team, going so far as to hold town meetings concerning the team.
  • Slow Clap: From the kids after Coach Dale gives his "winners" speech.
  • Truth in Television: As cliche as they seem, the final two minutes in the State Championship game are pretty much what happened in real life. The winning shot was hit by a guy named Bobby Plump, who later became one of the leading figures fighting against class basketball in Indiana.
  • Tuckerization: In the locker room before the final game, on the blackboard are the last names of the players on the opposing team. These are the real last names of the actors who make up the Hickory team.
  • Two First Names: Norman Dale.
  • Underdogs Never Lose: Hickory High didn't, at least.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Inspired by the Milan Indians team that won the Indiana high school basketball championship in 1954. However, much was changed and fictionalized for the movie, starting with the name of the town. The real coach was 26 years old and in his second season with the team. The real championship was not quite as shocking: Milan made the semifinals the year before. However, Milan was even then a rather small school, and Muncie Central was a large, integrated, traditional basketball power.
    • Not that this has stopped the town from adoring the movie despite the massive changes. After all, their town was the basis of a movie with a major Hollywood star. Milan's Dairy Queen has a movie poster signed by the '54 Indians team members and any time the movie gets a new release on home media it's going to be sold at the town's grocery store with a prominent display.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Buddy and Whit quit the team in a scene that shows Coach Dale will brook no nonsense from his players. Whit later apologizes and rejoins the team. Buddy later is back on the team too, but we never see how or when he returns.
    • Whit's father says, "If you have any problems with Whit or Buddy, let me know." I think that's meant to show that Buddy also returns and apologizes, if off-screen.
  • You Are in Command Now: Dale gets himself taken out of one game, challenging Shooter to step up into the role of coach. After a little fumbling, he does, with some support from his son.