Friday May 5, 2000
"The Basket" holds a jumble of things. There's the Great War. There's opera. There's forbidden love. And then there's this strange new game called basketball.
It's a lot, yes, but by and large, "The Basket" carries it off.
Three newcomers disrupt a small town in eastern Washington. It's 1918, and Helmut (Robert Karl Burke) and Brigitta (Amber Willenborg), German siblings orphaned by the war, come to live with the local doctor. Then a new teacher, Martin Conlon (Peter Coyote), arrives at the one-room schoolhouse with his opera records and round leather ball.
No one's quite sure what to make of these new folk, least of all the Emery family, whose oldest son has just returned from the war missing half his leg. Patriarch Nicholas Emery (Jock MacDonald) wants those German kids sent back to an internment camp, and he doesn't like that teacher and his German music, neither.
First-time director Rich Cowan (who also produced, edited and co-wrote) tosses a lot of balls into the air, including a budding romance between another Emery boy and Brigitta, a fancy crop harvester the town can't afford, and a $500 prize for any basketball team that can beat the team from Spokane. Cowan has a lot of ground to cover, so he doesn't dig too deep into any of it. The war, for instance, is greatly simplified: It's the U.S. vs. Germany.
This is an old-fashioned movie, a bit slow by most kids' entertainment standards. It may be a hard sell to the Gameboy generation, but "The Basket" has charms that may be more evident to adults.
Cowan and co-writers Frank and Tessa Swoboda try to make basketball-loving preteen Helmut the central character (starting with a pointless voice-over), apparently to hook youngsters. But the film doggedly remains an ensemble piece. There are a lot of people to keep track of, including four Emery sons and their mother, Bessie (Karen Allen). Allen's part is small, but her naturalness and intensity seem to elevate the inexperienced cast surrounding her. The amiable Coyote excepted, the actors mostly have only TV guest appearances or commercials to their credit. A few are novices. The questionable German accents indicate that a dialogue coach wasn't in the $3-million budget.
The production values belie that budget, however. Cinematographer Danny Heigh takes advantage of the lingering golden hours around sunset, and in a few shots, works magic. Production designer Vincent De Felice keeps the sets spartan but nails the details. And unlike "Legends of the Fall," set in Montana in the same period, the costumes don't look like they came from the Gap.
The score, by Don Caron, is mostly the opera music from the fictional "Der Karb" (The Basket). Caron's themes feel authentic, but attentive ears will tire of the same riff over and over.
The Basket, 2000. PG for some mild violence and brief language. A North by Northwest Entertainment and Privileged Communications release. Produced, directed and edited by Rich Cowan. Written by Rich Cowan, Don Caron, Frank Swoboda and Tessa Swoboda. Executive producers Marc Dahlstrom, Dave Holcomb, Greg Rathvon and Dave Tanner. Director of photography Dan Heigh. Composer Don Caron. Production designer Vincent De Felice. Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes. Peter Coyote as Martin Conlon. Karen Allen as Bessie Emery. Robert Karl Burke as Helmut Brink. Amber Willenborg as Brigitta Brink.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times