I'll admit that, despite living just over 100 miles from Philadelphia, I've never followed the 76ers or one of their most memorable players of the modern era, Allen Iverson...but unless you've been consciously avoiding basketball during the last 20 years, chances are good that you've at least heard of him. At less than six feet and well under 200 pounds during his entire 15-year career, Iverson never looked your typical NBA player, let alone a highly decorated superstar who was inducted into the Hall of Fame just a few months ago. His cornrows, tattoos, off-court wardrobe, and behavior made him one of the league's most infamous attractions, yet even his biggest detractors couldn't deny his natural talent and ability to leave everything on the court. Iverson (2015), directed by Zatella Beatty, offers a personal glimpse at his childhood, high school prospects, NBA career, and roadblocks along the way.
Iverson doesn't break any new ground in the sports documentary genre, but the participation of Iverson and members of his inner circle (family, friends, former coaches, and more) certainly helps. From an early age, disadvantages like poverty and a fatherless upbringing were offset by his eagerness to make friends, take younger kids under his wing, and of course practice sports religiously. His obvious talents in football and basketball made young Iverson a standout through high school, where he was a starting quarterback and point guard on each respective team, leading both to state championships during his junior year. Offers from dozens of hopeful colleges came pouring in soon after...and needless to say, Iverson had become something of a local legend before his 18th birthday.
Unfortunately, an altercation on Valentine's Day of 1993 stopped his plans before they started: Iverson and a group of friends became entangled with rival high school students at a bowling alley and, though he still claims to have left the building without becoming involved in the brawl, was identified by a few witnesses. Despite a lack of physical evidence, Iverson was charged as an adult several months later (after his 18th birthday) and received a stiff 15-year prison sentence because three people got injured in the commotion. Obviously, he didn't serve the full sentence, eventually settling in Georgetown for two years of college ball before jumping directly to the 76ers as a first round draft pick. His pro career was loaded with no shortage of similar highs and lows: MVP awards, four league scoring titles, almost a dozen All-Star nods, a concealed weapon a drug charge, accusations of domestic assault, and an off-court swagger that led to the NBA's 2005 mandatory dress code. Yet through it all, Iverson paints the picture of a misunderstood man who's been brutalized by media scrutiny and the public's desire to see rising stars fall.
It's a compelling watch at times, but Iverson has its own fair share of highs and lows during its all-too-brief 88-minute running time. The roster of names is a plus: we hear from Iverson, former coaches Larry Brown and John Thompson, 76ers president Pat Croce, family members, childhood friends, and colleagues from middle school onward. There's plenty of great archived material too: camcorder footage of the bowling alley incident, hanging out with friends, even a few scenes from his high school football days. Yet Iverson takes a fairly defensive stance more often than not: perhaps unavoidable due to the subject at hand, but still a bit off-putting as many of Iverson's legal issues are brushed aside with testimony instead of hard evidence. It's also rushed and incomplete from his NBA years onward; basic landmarks are covered, but the film's second half is nowhere near as detailed and enlightening as the first. Iverson is worth a look for casual and die-hard fans alike, but the kind of depth reached in films like Steve James' No Crossover (part of ESPN's terrific 30 For 30 series) is rarely attained during a few key stretches.
Kino Lorber's DVD of Iverson doesn't exactly help matters either: the somewhat lacking visuals (more on that later) and low-aiming audio don't translate to a standout disc, nor does its complete lack of extras. Even so, the main feature certainly has its moments and, at the very least, can be enjoyed by casual and die-hard fans alike.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in what appears to be its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio, Iverson is even more of a visual mixed bag than most documentaries. There are absolutely no aspect ratio changes from start to finish, despite the appearance of clips and photos from multiple sources and formats that include low-end camcorders, pre-HD NBA footage, and more. It's a generally ugly and unappealing concoction of images that are largely either (a) cropped or (b) stretched horizontally (and in some cases, vertically), all in the name of maintaining a uniform aspect ratio. Both methods also tend to amplify the existing flaws of the source material, which would've been much better off with pillar or letterbox black bars, as much of it displays obvious edge enhancement, interlacing, artifacts, and countless other issues. The only good-looking segments here are a few of the recent interview clips, as well as most of the static photos and newly-made collage graphics. While this may preserve the creative team's original intent, there's no doubt that a number of amateur decisions were made along the way and Iverson tends to suffer for it.
DISCLAIMER: These compressed and resized screen captures are strictly decorative and do not represent DVD's native 480p resolution.
The audio doesn't get a free pass, but at least it's much less problematic. This Dolby Digital 2.0 mix is straightforward with decent channel separation and mostly clear dialogue; one scene features burnt-in subtitles for clarity's sake, but everything else sounds fine. One definite nitpick, however, is that the rap-heavy soundtrack tends to overpower some of the dialogue at times and it's mixed with too much bass, much like that annoying neighbor's car down the street. Sadly, optional subtitles or captions have not been included during the main feature.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
The interface includes options for playback, chapter selection, and the film's Trailer
(1 minute); the DVD arrives in a standard black keepcase with no inserts and cover artwork identical to the menu. Obviously no other bonus features are here which, along with the middling A/V presentation, doesn't exactly make this disc stand out.
Iverson is a spotty and defensive but revealing documentary about a worthy subject that, to its credit, features great older footage and plenty of first-hand interviews with the star and his inner circle. It definitely feels rushed during the second half, though, giving it an unfinished feel that doesn't dig much below the surface. Despite its flaws, even the most casual NBA fans should get some enjoyment out of this one; if nothing else, Iverson spotlights a supremely talented, controversial figure and reminds us of the footprint he's left from delivering years of great basketball. Unfortunately, Kino Lorber's lackluster DVD is more of a curiosity than a keeper: it's not much to look at, the audio is barely above average, and the lack of extras is disappointing. Rent It, unless you're a die-hard fan.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs, and writing in third person.