(movie review originally written in 2003.)
"Drumline" was released with little buzz behind it last Fall. The film didn't open with a particularly high gross, either, but continued along well for several weeks, picking up business from strong word-of-mouth. The film isn't particularly original - it's another sports drama/coming-of-age, but I thought the writing was smart and the performances/characters interesting. It's an example of a formula movie overcoming the predictability that goes along with another entry into a full genre.
The picture stars Nick Cannon as Devon, a Freshman entering an Atlanta college on a band scholarship. Devon is certainly one of the brightest talents in the band, but he proves to be troublesome due to his tendency to go on his own rather than be part of the greater whole of the team. He also questions the musical choices of the bandmaster, Dr. Aaron Lee (Orlando Jones, in his best performance).
Beautifully filmed in scope, the picture's band scenes offer a force and drama to the proceedings that I don't think I've ever seen in a music-related picture - they're more boot camp than band camp. I appreciated the respect that the film had for the work that these musicians do and that deep respect really made the picture more involving. The film is also confidently directed by Charles Stone, who manages to keep the beat of the story marching forward wonderfully over 117 minutes. Bold cinematography by Shane Hurlbut ("crazy/beautiful"), terrific locations and production design suggest a movie that's more along the lines of a $35-40m one than a $20m one.
Stone also gets fine performances from his leads. Nick Cannon is very good as Devon - a stand-out talent with a personality that gets him into trouble. He makes the character outspoken, but sympathetic and involving. Jones ("Evolution") is very good in what is, as far as I can remember, his first dramatic role. Zoe Saldana ("Crossroads") is also effective as Devon's romantic interest, turning a minor character into something more. The music is also fantastic - the drumming is often nothing short of amazing, especially towards the end (Yes, there is the big "championship" scene).
If anything, I'd have liked the film to feature more depth in the way of debate of old vs. new in terms of music and a bit more to the characters. The energetic movie goes along quickly nevertheless, but more character development and plot would have helped make it something more. "Drumline" may not be a classic in the genre, but I really did find it to be an enjoyable effort. The story is nothing new, but the presentation was energetic and bold, and the performances made the somewhat predictable situations involving.
The Blu-Ray includes both the theatrical version and slightly longer extended edition.
VIDEO: "Drumline" is presented by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment in 2.35:1 (1080p/AVC) and the results - while not spectacular - are certainly quite nice. Sharpness and detail are above-average, as while the crisp picture was more well-defined than the DVD, there were still a few soft/inconsistent moments. Flaws include a few minor hints of edge enhancement and a couple of traces of noise. On a positive note, no print flaws are spotted and most of the film looks smooth and pristine. The film's vivid, rich color palette was presented very well, as colors looked well-saturated and vibrant throughout the film. Black level remained solid, while flesh tones looked accurate. While not demo quality, this was a fine effort that was generally a few steps up from the DVD.
SOUND: The film is presented in DTS-HD 5.1. The material may suggest a fairly straightforward audio presentation, but "Drumline" extends its audio outward on many occasions. Certainly a music-heavy film, the tunes are presented across a wide front soundstage and certainly hit with strong impact; this is certainly a dynamic, crisp presentation, with solid low bass. The surround channels aren't hugely aggressive, but the rear speakers do certainly provide the occasional ambience (especially during the stadium scenes) and pleasant reinforcement of both the score and in-film music. The DTS-HD presentation was a noticeable upgrade over the DVD's Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation, offering tighter, somewhat bolder bass and slightly crisper dialogue.
EXTRAS: The DVD offers a commentary from director Charles Stone, 4 deleted scenes w/commentary, 2 music videos, a soundtrack promo and three short documentaries: "The Real Battle of the Bands", "Anatomy of a Drumline" and "Half-Time Heroes". The three documentaries run for nearly 30 minutes and appear as if they may have been split off from a larger whole. The documentaries provide a reasonably good overview of the production (there's a reasonably good deal of interviews and behind-the-scenes clips, as well as looks at a real drumline), but they do seem a little fluffy and promotional at times. The commentary proved to be moderately informative, as Stone offered some good insights on production struggles, working with the actors, drumlines and more.
Final Thoughts: "Drumline" is an above-average effort, a film with a fine visual style, great energy and very good performances. The movie could have used a bit more depth and a few less cliches, but the movie marches along quickly and remains mostly engaging. The Blu-Ray offers moderate improvements in audio/video quality from the DVD, and also manages to bring along the DVD extras. Recommended for fans.