The Express DVD

Theatrical Release Date: 10/10/2008
DVD: Release Date: 01/20/2009
Director: Gary Fleder
Cast: Rob Brown, Dennis Quaid, Charles S. Dutton, Omar Benson Miller, Nelsan Ellis, Darrin Dewitt Henson, Clancy Brown, Nicole Beharie

The Film:

Every year, Hollywood releases a few feel good sports movies that carry a PG rating and can be enjoyed by just about anyone interested in the subject. Such is the case with “The Express”, which is “inspired by real events” surrounding Ernie Davis. A star running back for Syracuse University, he was the first African-American to win the Heisman trophy – which designates the best college football player of the year.

As he attended college in the early 1960s, it’s no surprise that the civil rights movement was also a key element of the film. Davis was mentored by Jim Brown, another legendary football player and noted civil rights activist. This element isn’t the main focus of the film but a very necessary undercurrent and helps to frame the hardships that Davis and other black athletes had to endure during that era.

To portray Davis, director Gary Fleder went with Rob Brown. Bearing a resemblance to Davis was obviously a factor but he also did a quality job of embodying the class and dignity that is often attributed to “The Elmira Express” – Davis’ nickname because of his speed and power on the football field.

Dennis Quaid plays his college coach and perhaps has the more obvious character arc to express; as he begins to figure out the true impact that color barrier breaking athletes like Jackie Robinson, Jim Brown and Ernie Davis can have on the nation as a whole and how he can be a very small part of that.

As is presented in the film (since the term “inspired by real events” never makes me feel confident about the film’s authenticity), the two men challenge each other to become better men. Each view the world from reasonable points of view but it is when they come to understand and respect one another that they discover how their contributions, both on a small and grand scale, can make a true impact.

With Quaid’s inclusion, you might have thrown this off as “The Rookie” for football and there’s an overly simplistic truth to that logic. While the stories are wildly different, the core emotions are similar and there isn’t much in “The Express” that hasn’t been said somewhere else before.

What I did like is that the film was more of a bio-pic than a football film. Yes, large portions of the film are centered around Davis’ rise to college super stardom, but along the way the focus is always on David as a person first and as a player second.

The production value of the project is excellent and the filmmakers did a nice job of setting the film in its time period. The football action plays well but it also doesn’t try to burden the audience with so much detail as to confuse anyone not familiar with the sport. That’s important because Davis’ story is much more about the strength of his character than the strength of his legs and allows non-football fans to enjoy the film as much as those of us who follow the NFL and/or the college game.

If you’re a fan of this genre, “The Express” is an easy call to make and you should pop the DVD in your player or call it up on your fancy 7,000 channel home setup. A 4 out of 5, it delivers the goods and as with all good sports stories, might even bring a tear to your eye to see the trials and tribulations of its characters.

The DVD:

The DVD for “The Express” doesn’t pop with special features but all of the standard extras are here and so justifying the purchase falls squarely on your esteem for the film.


Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. Anamorphic Widescreen 2:40:1.


English (for the hard of hearing); Spanish; French.


English; Spanish.

Extra Features:

Commentary with Director Gary Fleder

—- Fleder’s passion for the project comes through in his commentary. As per usual, he covers the hows and whys of the film’s composition and discusses the cast and crew’s contribution. While it is on the dry side, if you were interested in finding out about the project’s framework, it is worth checking out.

Deleted Scenes

—- Only three deleted (/extended) scenes are included but they do come with optional director’s commentary. It’s easy to see why they were removed but nice to see them to flesh out a bit more of the story as a whole.

Making History: The Story of Ernie Davis

—- This feature allows notable sports figures, former teammates, family and cast/crew members to relate how Davis’ remarkable story touched their lives and why it’s a story well worth telling. My favorite bits were football legend (and Ernie Davis’ mentor) Jim Brown’s comments. It’s a shame there wasn’t more on the DVD just from him to illuminate his perspective on Davis’ life and legacy.

Making of “The Express”

—- This also touches on the social relevance of telling Davis’ story but additionally goes on to discuss Fleder’s approach to making the film as well as some of the behind the scenes info such as filming locations and such.

Inside the Playbook: Shooting the Football Games

—- Second unit director Allan Graf was responsible for bringing the football action to life. As a former lineman, he knows that you can’t fake football on film, it’s too obvious. He made sure to use real plays, real athletes and let them go full speed. While it would have been nice to see more of a look on how they got everyone to work together, it was nice to hear them talk about their sincere efforts to making this crucial element of the film work.

From Hollywood to Syracuse: The Legacy of Ernie Davis

—- Covering both the Syracuse area “orange carpet” premiere of the film and the campus’ involvement, this was perhaps the worst element of the DVD and almost gave me a reason to drop the disc’s extra features rating. After the first minute or so, this turns into a Syracuse University recruitment video. I’m not bagging the institution but I’m a bit offended at disguising this as a special feature and not just labeling it a PR piece.

The Sobering Conclusion:

“The Express” may not break ground for its genre or do anything audiences haven’t seen before but the story of Ernie Davis is moving and the entire team (producers, crew, actors) did a wonderful job. While buying the DVD should best be reserved for fans of the film who will enjoy rewatching this from time to time, it is a film worth checking out. If you like other sports bio-pic films, I see no reason you won’t like this one as well.