In 2001, a young New Yorker named Lenny Cooke was the country's top-ranked high school basketball player. The hoop-dreams hope and hype were high. He was interviewed by
Cooke's story, less a cautionary tale than a mythic one, is the subject of a compellingly unconventional, elliptical sports documentary that explores the mysterious realm of might-have-been. In "Lenny Cooke," sibling directors Ben and Joshua Safdie (whose scruffy narratives include
That footage includes the landscape-shifting game that pitted Cooke against a relatively unknown James. But there's no single reason for Cooke's missed shot at the big leagues. He was a natural athlete but not an especially driven one. In old footage, he's seen bristling at a coach's disciplinary spiel. In present-day scenes, out of shape at 30 and still slightly stunned by the way things turned out, he suggests that a b-ball career was never truly his dream.
The filmmakers use a bit of digital trickery to literalize Cooke's conversation with himself. It's a risky ploy that doesn't quite transcend self-consciousness but whose poignancy is undeniable. If portions of the film will resonate more with sports fans, the emotional impact of Cooke's trajectory requires no specialized knowledge.
MPAA rating: None.
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.
Playing: At Laemmle's Music Hall 3, Beverly Hills.