Review by Dan Skip Allen
Sports films can be a bit hit and miss as a genre. Sure there is a good chunk of them that are excellent, but there are a lot of bad films in this genre as well. Basketball films are a little far and in between. For every basketball film, there are two or three baseball and football films. That being said, there are two basketball films out right now: (the fictional) Hustle on Netflix and Rise on Disney+, which is the true story of Giannis Antetokounmpo. One is definitely better than the other.
The Antetokounmpos are from Lagos, Nigeria. In 1990, they were struggling to make ends meet, and there was civil unrest in the country. So the father decides it's best to move the family to Greece, where there is less trouble for his wife and kids. He notices his boys are pretty tall, so he tries to get them to learn how to play basketball at the local courts around where they live. At first, they struggle with the game but eventually learn to perfect it.
The two brothers, Giannis and Thanasis Antetokoumpo (Uche Agada, Ral Agada), are at first like fish out of water at the sport of basketball. Traveling and bowling a lot, they pick up the nuance of the sport relatively quickly — so quickly that they start to have scouts notice them. These scouts can help them get an attractive deal with NBA franchises or get drafted through the NBA draft lottery. There is a little problem, though. They have visa issues that can hamper their progression into the NBA.
Even though this is a true story, it has dramatic moments that make for a good story. The family issues and visa issues create moments that the viewers can be upset about, especially since most sports fans know the outcome of these brothers' stories. The parents' backstory was where the true story was for me and also the agent that helped the brothers out. I don't know how much creative license was taken with these characters, but they were the real heart of the story for me.
A major problem I had with the film was the acting across the board. I just couldn't get into the performances by the cast, especially the two brothers. It just felt like everybody was wooden in their performances, but maybe that was the dialogue and or direction they were given.
In sports movies, how the actual sport is portrayed on screen is a major part of whether the film is good or bad. This film seemed to me to get the basketball wrong. It just seemed too staged, whereas the other basketball film out right now got the basketball scenes perfect. It could have been the budget or insufficient time to prepare, but they didn't look good to me.
Rise had good intentions, but it fell apart in two major categories for me: The acting and staging and execution of the game of basketball. Disney has done more than its share of inspirational sports films, but this one won't be considered among its good ones. There may be underlying problems I don't know about, but I can only go off of the end result, and this film just isn't that good from a few major standpoints.
Rise is now streaming on Disney+.