Direction: Akin Omotoso | Script: Arash Amel | cast: Dayo Okeniyi (Charles), Yetide Badaki (Veronika), Uche Agada (Giannis), Ral Agada (Thanasis), Elijah Sholanke (Alex), Jaden Osimuwa (Kostas), among others | Playtime: 113 minutes | Year: 2022
Giannis, Thanasis and Kostas Antetokounmpo all played in the NBA, which was only a matter of time before a movie about the three basketball playing brothers was made. Disney has filmed the true story of the Antetokounmpo family, whose lives have been profoundly changed by basketball. But if you start the movie with the expectations of a sports movie, you can still be surprised by the gripping intro scenes. The film already reveals its real subject: the struggles of an immigrant family, which has always had to hide from the authorities of a foreign country.
In ascend the rigors of the Antetokounmpo offer fertile ground for an inspiring sports film. Parents Charles and Veronika, both ex-top athletes from Nigeria, go to Europe as legal workers. However, their passports are confiscated at the European border and they have to enter Greece illegally via Turkey. For this reason, it still takes some time before the first basketball flies over the screen.
Giannis, Thanasis, Kostas and Alex, the couple’s four sons, grew up in illegality and poverty in Greece. Basketball is their only chance to escape this harsh reality and one day become full citizens. Conventional training montages and thrilling matches, known from older sports films, take on added meaning in this film: it’s not just a struggle for survival on the pitch, but also off it.
With beautiful cinematography and upbeat music, the story of the three brothers is made into a heartwarming family film in an approachable way. Despite all the setbacks, loved ones keep repeating that they are doing it for each other, and as history shows, the children will go to the top. It makes for a bittersweet viewing experience, as the viewer knows that all the suffering shown is just the obstacles the family must overcome together. It always remains certain in this Disney film that dreams really can come true.
The combination of sports film and family film initially seems to work well, but at a certain point the number of sporting moments decreases surprisingly quickly. The actors are only occasionally (moderately) on screen and more often seem to engage in inspiring conversations about the inequalities in Greek society, discrimination and the need to work hard. This leads to some warm moments between family members, but also some over the top political statements for a family movie and some underwhelming basketball for a sports movie.
Disney finally leaves its mark on the film a little too much. Despite the strong plot and high quality of production, drama often seems to triumph over sport, and through the lives of the Antetokounmpo the main attempt is to tell a politically colorful story about immigrant life in Greece.
In the film, basketball becomes more of a way to pursue the American dream and in the end to quickly migrate to the United States, where the family is welcomed with open arms. Thus . bECOMES ascend more of a lavish feel-good story, which fits into Disney+’s colorful selection, than a realistic biopic, with all the rough edges not yet sanded down.
ascend can be seen at Disney+†
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