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The Great Debaters

The deck is stacked
By BRETT MICHEL  |  December 26, 2007
2.5 2.5 Stars

VIDEO: The trailer for The Great Debaters

Denzel Washington both acts in and directs his latest, portraying real-life poet Melvin B. Tolson, who led East Texas’s all-black Wiley College’s 1935 debate team to a championship season. Forest Whitaker adds moral authority as the clergyman father of the 14-year-old researcher (Denzel Whitaker, no relation –– to either) in the team that also numbers a well-read orator (Nate Parker) and a female with law aspirations (Jurnee Smollett). Despite their winning performances (between Antwone Fisher and this, his sophomore effort, Washington demonstrates a lucid gift for drawing fine work from young actors), the deck is stacked in favor of our earnest heroes, since Robert Eisele’s formulaic script never once allows our debaters to argue a contrarian’s viewpoint, not even during the final, fictional debate against the “Anglo-Saxons” at Harvard. 123 minutes | Boston Common + Fenway + Fresh Pond + Circle/Chestnut Hill + Suburbs

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 See all articles by: BRETT MICHEL