Picks and Pans Review: The Express

updated 10/20/2008 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/20/2008 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Dennis Quaid, Rob Brown | PG

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Ernie Davis, a speedy star halfback at Syracuse University, won the 1961 Heisman Trophy and became the first black player awarded college football's top honor. The Express movingly tells his story, embracing but also rising above the clichés of most sports movies. It does so by putting his struggles both on and off the field into context, showing how Davis (Brown), his teammates and coach (Quaid) were affected by the burgeoning civil rights movement and the rampant racism and segregation that existed in parts of the country.

Brown, his face registering every slight and hurt, gives a strong performance; Quaid is equally solid as a coach who grows to prize Davis as much for the man he is as the player. Like Remember the Titans, another true-life football tale, Express is terrific to show to kids 8 and up as a starting point to discuss race, how far we've come—and where we still need to go.

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