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Jim Brown - All American  (2002)


Rating: NR

Distributor: HBO Home Video

Release Date: August 24, 2004
Review posted: August 28, 2004


Reviewed by Dylan Grant




As a football player, he broke through defense lines as if they weren’t there. As an actor, he broke through color barriers to become a black action hero. As an activist, he broke down closed doors to bring about change. In this documentary by Spike Lee, Jim Brown, joined by many of his friends and associates, speaks openly about his life and career.




Jim Brown has lived a remarkable, truly American life. He rose from less than advantageous circumstances in St. Simons Island, Georgia to become one of the greatest athletes of all time, among other things. The early part of the film shows us this. The documentary starts out as an engaging portrait, giving us a glimpse at Brown and his children, all of them together for the first time in, as Spike Lee says in the commentary, at least a decade. We see the graves of Jim’s grandmother and great-grandmother, the two women who did the lion’s share of raising him. The film then moves to Manhasset High School, where Brown’s athletic prowess began to shine through.


But the longer the film runs, the more unbalanced it becomes. The important thing to look at in any bio is not what is said, but what is left unsaid. And in Jim Brown All American there is quite a lot.  Did Brown ever have a bad game? Not to hear this film tell it. This documentary devolves into an act of glorification that leaves one wondering what the other side of the story is.  Jim Brown is not a saint. What were his mistakes? He did not like everyone he met, and everyone he met did not like him, so who did he clash with along the way? Those are the kinds of questions that might yield a more well rounded picture of the man, but they are not even asked.


The film plays as though it were on fast forward, like a highlight reel that only touches on the high points of his life. Brown’s retirement – when he was at the top of his game – gets only a few seconds of screen time. Likewise, his creation and operation of the Black Economic Union, certainly one of the most interesting, most well thought out parts of the civil rights movement (it was more about action and less about rhetoric) gets only a few minutes of screen time. The last segment of the film devotes itself to clumsily explaining away some of the criminal charges leveled against Brown in the late ‘70’s and ‘80’s.


It should be said that there are some interesting insights into Brown and his life, enough to make the film compelling. But the overall effect is so one-sided that the documentary is, in the end, not as successful as it could have been.




Jim Brown All American is presented in the original 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio. The transfer is pristine, really bringing justice to the richness of the photography. The colors are well translated.




Presented in Dolby Digital Surround, the presentation is solid, well balanced, but it tends toward the front speaker.




Commentary by Spike Lee: Lee talks about getting to know Jim Brown and how the film came to be. He gives some anecdotes about the filming.


The commentary track is the only piece of bonus material we have. The track is good, but it would have been nice to have some more details.




Jim Brown All American presents a compelling portrait of the controversial athlete, and it definitely worth seeing. The film is not well balanced, and leaves the feeling of not telling the whole story, and the bonus material is in short supply. The film is worth a look, but there is little to merit buying this title.




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