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The Express | Movie Review & Trailer | Dennis Quaid, Rob Brown, Omar Benson Miller in The Express

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  'The Express' Movie Review (2 Stars)
      Movie Review by Michael Phillips


The Express

The Express (L to R) College football hero Ernie Davis (ROB BROWN), fellow player Jack Buckley (OMAR BENSON MILLER) and Coach Ben Schwartzwalder (DENNIS QUAID) in a drama based on the true story of the running back who smashed barriers on and off the field The Express. Photo Credit: Chuck Hodes
The Express Rob Brown, Omar Benson Miller & Dennis Quaid

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There are times during "The Express" when you expect the phenomenally talented and sadly short-lived running back Ernie Davis, played by Rob Brown, to turn to top-billed Dennis Quaid and say:

"Put me in, coach! It's my movie!"

Too often "The Express" sidelines its own main character in favor of the lemon-sucking, jaw-jutting glower patented by Quaid. At any rate, I doubt any football picture should rely so heavily on slow-motion game footage and still asked to be called "The Express." It should be called "The Express, in Slow Motion."

Despite Davis' overwhelming widely reported real-life niceness, the man is well worth a full-length story, simply because of what he achieved (first African-American Heisman Trophy winner) and when he achieved it (in the early years of the civil rights revolution). Born in 1939 and laid low by leukemia in 1963, at age 23, Davis never got the chance to play pro ball. Yet he accomplished a great deal in the time he had, mentored first by pre-legendary Jim Brown, his predecessor at Syracuse University, then by coach Schwartzwalder, played by Quaid.

Screenwriter Charles Leavitt has a prosaic way with dialogue, and director Gary Fleder never does anything you couldn't anticipate if you were playing defense. The editing rhythm of "The Express" is choppy in the extreme, which is very hard on the performances. Quaid seems to be forcing the tough-guy act, not letting it come naturally. The genial but bland Brown, by contrast, doesn't do enough to suggest what's inside the all-around competitor's brain, and his drive. The most effective actors are on the supporting tier, among them Charles S. Dutton as Davis' coal miner grandfather; Nelsan Ellis as Davis' itchy, impatient cousin; and Saul Rubinek as the owner of the Browns. Danny McCarthy adds some zip to the role of assistant coach.

While I got caught up in the Cotton Bowl climax, in which Syracuse wages war against the vicious bigots playing, and rooting, for the Texas Longhorns, I wish the characterization of Davis came to more than general goodwill and great on-field maneuvers. Everything in "The Express" has a stilted and slightly artificial air, from childhood taunts tinged with racism to Davis' college romance. The film does the job, in its conventional way. But it's geared to throw the prime screen time in the direction of the guy playing the guy coaching the guy who's supposed to be running the movie.


MPAA rating: PG (for thematic content, violence and language involving racism, and for brief sensuality).

Running time: 2:09.

Starring: Dennis Quaid (Ben Schwartzwalder); Rob Brown (Ernie Davis); Omar Benson Miller (Jack Buckley); Aunjanue Ellis (Marie Davis); Clancy Brown (Roy Simmons); Darrin Dewitt Henson (Jim Brown); Saul Rubinek (Art Modell); Nelsan Ellis (Will Davis Jr.); Charles S. Dutton (Willie "Pops" Davis).

Directed by Gary Fleder; written by Charles Leavitt, based on the book "Ernie Davis: The Elmira Express" by Robert Gallagher; photographed by Kramer Morgenthau; edited by William Steinkamp and Padraic McKinley; production design by Nelson Coates; music by Mark Isham; produced by John Davis. A Universal Pictures release.


The Express Movie Trailer

About the Movie "The Express"

"From the time I started in sports, I always was the player who got the limelight, who had the nice stories written about him. All this I gained merely by doing what I liked to do most."

— Ernie Davis, with Bob August, "I’m Not Unlucky" in The Saturday Evening Post March 30, 1963

"He was an outstanding young man of great character who served — and my hope is, will continue to serve — as an inspiration to the young people of this country."

— John F. Kennedy on Ernie Davis

In America in the late 1950s and early ’60s, one young man became a symbol for a country grappling to move past its long-held views of people of his color. His unprecedented journey unfolded as he shattered not only sports records but also perceptions of what was possible for an African-American at the time. His name was Ernie Davis, but fans knew him better as "The Elmira Express."

This film is a tribute to his courage.

Based on a true story, The Express follows the extraordinary life of college football hero Ernie Davis (ROB BROWN of Finding Forrester, Coach Carter), the first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy. His quiet fight for equality and respect forever changed not only the face of the game, but his civil rights story continues to inspire new generations.

Born in 1939 and raised in poverty in Pennsylvania coal-mining country by his grandmother and grandfather (CHARLES S. DUTTON of Secret Window, Gothika), before moving to Elmira, New York, Davis hurdled social and economic obstacles to become one of the greatest running backs in college football history. Under the guidance of legendary Syracuse coach Ben Schwartzwalder (DENNIS QUAID of The Rookie, Any Given Sunday), he became a hero who surpassed Jim Brown’s achievements and became the first African-American player to be awarded the Heisman Trophy, college football’s highest individual honor.

Decorated veteran Schwartzwalder was a Southerner with a single vision of a national championship and hardened ideas about how the world worked. Though he and Davis clashed mightily, he taught the player everything he knew about football, just as Davis helped him learn the true meaning of victory.

As the growing civil rights movement divided the country in the ’60s, Davis became a symbol for achievement that transcended the gridiron. Refusing to flinch from others’ prejudices, Davis achieved all his goals—until he faced a challenge that would make most men crumble. He joined the ranks of black pioneers by teaching a generation tolerance, inspiring a movement that smashed barriers on and off the field.

GARY FLEDER (Runaway Jury, Kiss the Girls) directs The Express from a script by CHARLES LEAVITT (Blood Diamond) that is based on the book "Ernie Davis: The Elmira Express" by ROBERT GALLAGHER. JOHN DAVIS (I, Robot, Behind Enemy Lines) produces the drama.

Joining the cast is a group of up-and-coming and seasoned performers, including OMAR BENSON MILLER (8 Mile, Miracle at St. Anna) as Ernie’s best friend and teammate Jack Buckley; AUNJANUE ELLIS (Ray, Freedomland) as Ernie’s mother Marie Davis; CLANCY BROWN (The Guardian, television’s Carnivàle) as Coach Roy Simmons; DARRIN DEWITT HENSON (Stomp the Yard, The Hustle) as the original No. 44, legendary player Jim Brown; SAUL RUBINEK (War, The Family Man) as the Cleveland Browns’ owner Art Modell; NELSAN ELLIS (Trespass, upcoming The Soloist) as Ernie’s cousin Will Davis, Jr.; and newcomer NICOLE BEHARIE as Ernie’s girlfriend, Sarah Ward.

The Express’ behind-the-camera crew includes an accomplished team of filmmakers, including longtime Fleder collaborators: production designer NELSON COATES (Antwone Fisher, Runaway Jury), costume designer ABIGAIL MURRAY (Pride and Glory, Kiss the Girls), three-time Oscar®-nominated editor WILLIAM STEINKAMP (Runaway Jury, Out of Africa) and composer MARK ISHAM (Kiss the Girls, Miracle). New to the team are editor PADRAIC MCKINLEY (Igby Goes Down, Bordertown) and director of photography KRAMER MORGENTHAU (Fracture, Empire).

DEREK DAUCHY (The Fog, The Benchwarmers), ARNE L. SCHMIDT (We Were Soldiers, xXx) and RYAN KAVANAUGH (3:10 to Yuma, Charlie Wilson’s War) serve as executive producers.

About the Cast "The Express"

DENNIS QUAID (Ben Schwartzwalder)

With every role he plays, DENNIS QUAID (Ben Schwartzwalder) upholds his place as one of the most charismatic actors of our time. Quaid received supporting actor honors from the New York Film Critics Circle and Film Independent’s Spirit Awards, and also garnered nominations for a Golden Globe Award and Screen Actors Guild Award for his emotional turn as a closet homosexual in 1950’s New York in the critically acclaimed 2002 film Far From Heaven.

Quaid recently finished production on Sony Screen Gem’s dramatic thriller Legion, directed by Scott Charles Stewart. Quaid stars with Paul Bettany in this story about a group of strangers stuck in a diner after a biblical apocalypse descends upon the world.

This past spring, Quaid also filmed Paramount Pictures’ action-adventure G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra for director Stephen Sommers. Quaid plays General Hawk, the head of an elite military unit comprised of special operatives known as G.I. Joes, operating out of The Pit, who take on an evil organization led by a notorious arms dealer. The film will be released on August 7, 2009.

In August 2008, Quaid departed for Berlin, Germany, to film Overture Films’ Pandorum, a horror film about a pair of crewmembers aboard a spaceship who wake up with no knowledge of their mission or their identities. Ben Foster co-stars. The film will be released in the U.S. in February 2009.

Quaid also completed production on The Horsemen. Co-starring Ziyi Zhang, the film is about a recently widowed detective still grieving over his wife’s recent death who discovers a shocking connection between himself and the suspects in a serial killing spree linked to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Quaid most recently starred in the Miramax film Smart People, for director Noam Murro, which premiered at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, and just prior, he starred in Sony Pictures’ action-thriller Vantage Point, directed by Pete Travis.

Quaid’s last film was the satirical comedy American Dreamz, in which he played the President of the United States, along with an ensemble that included Willem Dafoe, Hugh Grant, Marcia Gay Harden and Mandy Moore. The film was written and directed by Paul Weitz for Universal Pictures.

In 2005, Quaid received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He also starred in MGM/Paramount Pictures’ family comedy Yours, Mine and Ours, with Rene Russo, a remake of the 1968 film, which originally starred Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball, and directed by Raja Gosnell. Yours, Mine and Ours is the tale of a widower (Quaid) with 10 children who marries a widow (Russo) with 8 children. Quaid also received rave reviews for his role in the Universal Pictures’ film In Good Company, co-starring Scarlett Johansson and Topher Grace, and written and directed by Paul Weitz.

In 2004, Quaid starred in the 20th Century Fox action blockbuster film, The Day After Tomorrow, directed by Roland Emmerich, and just prior as General Sam Houston in Disney’s The Alamo, which reteamed him with director John Lee Hancock. Quaid also starred in another film that year: 20th Century Fox’s remake of Flight of the Phoenix, directed by John Moore and produced by John Davis and William Aldrich.

In 2002, Quaid starred in the title role of a high-school baseball coach in Disney’s box-office hit The Rookie, based on the true story of pitcher Jimmy Morris, who makes the major leagues at the age of 35. The Rookie was directed by John Lee Hancock, produced by Mark Johnson, Gordon Gray and Mark Ciardi. The film was awarded an ESPY by ESPN for Best Sports Movie.

In 2001, Quaid starred in HBO’s Dinner With Friends for director Norman Jewison. Based on Donald Margulies’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play, the story explores the strains of modern-day marriages. Dinner With Friends received a 2002 Emmy nomination for Outstanding Made for Television Movie.

Quaid also starred in New Line Cinema’s 2000 hit Frequency, in which he played a heroic firefighter who died at a young age, but was able to communicate with the son he left behind due to a time warp. The film was written by Toby Emmerich, directed by Gregory Hoblit and also starred Jim Caviezel and Andre Braugher. The year 2000 also marked Quaid’s appearance in the critically acclaimed Steven Soderbergh suspense drama Traffic, for USA Films, opposite Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Quaid portrayed a high-powered attorney who became involved in a web of deceit and scandal that resulted in deadly consequences.

Quaid made his directorial debut for TNT with the television film, Everything That Rises, the story of a Wyoming man’s struggle to hold on to the land passed down through generations, which takes on a new poignancy when his son is critically injured in an auto accident. Quaid also starred in Nancy Meyer’s box-office hit The Parent Trap, for Walt Disney, a remake of the 1961 classic, which was a summer 1998 release.

In the fall of 1998, Quaid was seen in the critically acclaimed film Savior, directed by Peter Antonijevic. Quaid starred in this realistic and heart-wrenching portrayal of a French-American mercenary who reclaims his humanity by rescuing a girl orphaned by the Bosnian War. Critics hailed his performance as the best of his career.

Quaid also received considerable critical praise for his role as Doc Holliday in the western Wyatt Earp, in 1994, and for the Oscar®-nominated space epic The Right Stuff, in 1983.

Quaid’s impressive body of work includes the Warner Bros. film Any Given Sunday, directed by Oliver Stone; Jeb Stuart’s Switchback; Gang Related, opposite James Belushi; Lasse Hallström’s Something to Talk About, opposite Julia Roberts and Robert Duvall; the fantasy action-adventure film Dragonheart; Steve Kloves’ critically acclaimed Flesh and Bone; Alan Parker’s World War II saga Come See the Paradise; Taylor Hackford’s Everybody’s All-American, opposite Jessica Lange; Peter Yates’ Suspect, opposite Cher; Annabel Jankel’s remake of the 1949 film noir D.O.A.; Jim McBride’s The Big Easy, with Ellen Barkin; and Joe Dante’s Innerspace. He showcased his musical talents in the films The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia, Tough Enough and Great Balls of Fire!

Quaid began acting in high school and studied theater at the University of Houston. Soon after his arrival in Hollywood, he landed the plum role of a working-class tough guy in Breaking Away. Other early film credits include The Long Riders, with his brother Randy; September 30, 1955; Crazy Mama; Dreamscape; All Night Long; Our Winning Season; Caveman; I Never Promised You a Rose Garden; and Enemy Mine.

In 1983, Quaid starred with Mickey Rooney in the Emmy Award-winning television movie Bill and its sequel, Bill: On His Own. A year later, he co-starred with Randy Quaid in the off-Broadway production of Sam Shepard’s True West, which he later reprised in Los Angeles.

Quaid splits his time between homes in Los Angeles, Montana and Texas.


ROB BROWN (Ernie Davis) received critical acclaim in his feature-film debut as Jamal Wallace in the Gus Van Sant film Finding Forrester. A natural-born talent, who had never studied nor had any professional acting experience, he was awarded the Las Vegas Film Critics Society Award for Best Male Newcomer in 2000, as well as the Golden Satellite Award for Outstanding New Talent for his performance opposite Sean Connery, the Oscar®-winning actress Anna Paquin and F. Murray Abraham.

Brown was last seen in Kimberly Peirce’s Stop-Loss, a drama about a young soldier who returns to his hometown in Texas from the war in Iraq, only to be recalled by the government’s "stop-loss" policy. This Scott Rudin film stars several talented young actors alongside Brown, including Channing Tatum, Ryan Phillippe and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

In 2005, Brown starred opposite Alexis Bledel and Chris Evans in the gritty independent film The Orphan King, directed by Andrew Wilder. Later that same year, Brown appeared alongside Samuel L. Jackson and Ashanti in Paramount Pictures’ Coach Carter. In this story of a controversial high-school basketball coach (Jackson), who benches his undefeated team due to poor grades, Brown plays a key member of the team who becomes involved with a female classmate (Ashanti).

Brown also appeared in New Line Cinema’s Take the Lead, co-starring Antonio Banderas and Alfre Woodard, and directed by Liz Friedlander. This true story is about a former professional ballroom dancer (Banderas) who volunteers at a New York City public school to teach dance. Brown shines in the role of a troubled student who participates in this new attempt to reform students in detention through ballroom dance lessons.

Brown, who was born in Harlem and raised in Brooklyn, currently resides in New York City.


OMAR BENSON MILLER (Jack Buckley) recently appeared in Things We Lost in the Fire, co-starring Halle Berry. He was also in Curtis Hanson’s Lucky You, with Drew Barrymore and Eric Bana, and had the lead in the independent feature Man of God.

Miller started his Hollywood acting career in Disney’s cross-dressing comedy, Sorority Boys. The film was shot while he was still enrolled in film school at San Jose State University, where he was subsequently named best male actor of his graduating class. Immediately following graduation, Miller landed a highly coveted lead role opposite Eminem in Hanson’s hit feature 8 Mile. The ensemble cast also featured Mekhi Phifer, Kim Basinger and Brittany Murphy.

Miller next appeared in HBO’s Undefeated, directed by and starring John Leguizamo. He then showed a lighter side of his talent in the romantic comedy-drama Shall We Dance, starring Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez. He also appeared in Jim Sheridan’s film Get Rich or Die Tryin’, alongside Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson and Terrence Howard.

Miller recently worked with director Spike Lee on Miracle at St. Anna. He makes his directorial debut with Gordon Glass, an independent feature in which he co-stars with Evan Jones.


CLANCY BROWN (Roy Simmons) began his acting career in Chicago theater and continued to perform onstage locally until he won the role of "Viking" Lofgren, a nasty prison inmate, in the 1983 feature film Bad Boys, starring Sean Penn. He has gone on to star in many motion pictures, including the multiple Oscar®-nominated film The Shawshank Redemption, The Guardian, The Hurricane, Starship Troopers Roughnecks: The Starship Troopers Chronicles, Flubber, Blue Steel, Shoot to Kill, Extreme Prejudice and the cult classic Highlander.

Brown’s television credits include HBO’s Emmy Award-winning series Carnivàle, the NBC series Earth 2, the Emmy-nominated HBO movie Normal, the CBS movie The Patron Saint of Liars, the NBC miniseries Love, Lies and Murder and a recurring role on ER. He is also known to millions of children as the voice of Mr. Eugene H. Krabs from the hugely popular animated series SpongeBob SquarePants. Brown will soon be on the big screen in the upcoming Lionsgate film The Burrowers.


A graduate of the Yale School of Drama, CHARLES S. DUTTON (Willie "Pops" Davis) has a career spanning theater, television and film, and is one of the few actors to earn Tony, Emmy and Golden Globe Award nominations for the same role. He created the lead roles in three of August Wilson’s early plays: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Jo Turner’s Come and Gone and The Piano Lesson. He received multiple award nominations, including a Tony Award nomination for Best Actor (Featured Role in a Play), for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and The Piano Lesson. He was also nominated for an Emmy Award and a Golden Globe Award for the Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation of The Piano Lesson.

Dutton starred in and executive produced the FOX comedy-drama Roc, produced by HBO, for which he received several NAACP Image Award nominations. He has numerous television credits, including the miniseries The Murder of Mary Phagan, The ’60s, Deadlocked and Aftershock: Earthquake in New York. His episodic appearances include House M.D., The Sopranos and the HBO series Oz, among others. He won Emmy Awards for his guest-starring roles in Without a Trace and The Practice. Dutton is a veteran of numerous feature films such as Q & A; Alien3; Menace II Society; Rudy; A Low Down Dirty Shame; Cry, the Beloved Country; Nick of Time; A Time to Kill; Get on the Bus; Cookie’s Fortune (for which he received an Independent Spirit Award nomination); Gothika; and Secret Window. This winter, he can be seen in the new John Sayles film Honeydripper.

Dutton made his directorial debut in 1997 with the HBO movie First Time Felon. He also directed the award-winning HBO miniseries The Corner, for which he received an Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special in 2000. Dutton’s feature film directorial debut was the 2004 Paramount Pictures film Against the Ropes. In 2006, he directed multiple episodes of the Showtime series Sleeper Cell, for which he received a Directors Guild of America Award nomination. Most recently, he directed the Lifetime Television movie Racing for Time and the pilot Under for A&E. Dutton recently finished shooting the Screen Gems feature Legion, co-starring Paul Bettany and Dennis Quaid.

Release date: October 10, 2008

Genre: Drama

Cast: Dennis Quaid, Rob Brown, Omar Benson Miller, Clancy Brown and Charles S. Dutton

Directed by: Gary Fleder

Written by: Charles Leavitt

Based on the Book "Ernie Davis: The Elmira Express" by: Robert Gallagher

Produced by: John Davis

Executive Producers: Derek Dauchy, Arne L. Schmidt, Ryan Kavanaugh

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The Express (L to R, foreground) College football hero Ernie Davis (ROB BROWN) and Coach Ben Schwartzwalder (DENNIS QUAID) in a drama based on the true story of the running back who smashed barriers on and off the field The Express. Photo Credit: Universal Pictures Copyright: 2008 Universal Studios. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
The Express (L to R, foreground) College football hero Ernie Davis (ROB BROWN) & Coach Ben Schwartzwalder (DENNIS QUAID) in a drama based on the true story of the running back who smashed barriers on and off the field

The Express College football hero Ernie Davis (ROB BROWN) proudly holds the Heisman Trophy in a drama based on the true story of the running back who smashed barriers on and off the field - The Express. Photo Credit: Chuck Hodes Copyright: 2008 Universal Studios. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
College football hero Ernie Davis (ROB BROWN) proudly holds the Heisman Trophy in a drama based on the true story of the running back who smashed barriers on and off the field - The Express.


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The Express Movie Review Film Critic Michael Phillips Tasha Robinson Robert Abele Reviews The Express
The Express Starring Dennis Quaid, Rob Brown, Omar Benson Miller, Aunjanue Ellis, Clancy Brown, Darrin Dewitt Henson, Saul Rubinek, Nelsan Ellis, Charles S. Dutton
The Express Movie Review, Movie Trailer, Movie Production Notes, Synopsis, About the Movie, About the Cast