Pride is not just “based on a true story,” but “inspired by true events.” And inspired it is, even if in this case inspiration only goes so far as to passionately steel the film through an obstacle course of clichés. There’s absolutely nothing new offered by Pride, unless you want to know all about Jim Ellis’ Philadelphia Department of Recreation swim team, but the film fits so earnestly and well-intentioned inside a specific generic formula (a motley crew of amateurs whipped into shape by an encouraging coach, winning it all and in the process battling racial prejudice) that questions of narrative and aesthetic novelty are rendered moot.
Ellis (Terence Howard) is an African-American swimmer who in the early 1960s experienced extreme hostility in his attempts to race with white competitors. A decade later he searches for a job in education only to be rebuffed by the latent racism of higher learning institutions. Ellis lands a job refurbishing a broken down recreation center in the heart of a Philly slum, and eventually transforms five local young men (and later on one token young woman) from basketball-playing goof-offs into expert swimmers, while also fighting the city’s plan to close the center.
For dramatic thrust every character has a neatly delineated function: the corrupting influence, a drug dealer; the obnoxious, racist coach of the team’s main rival; a love interest for Ellis. There’s some nice underwater cinematography, the era’s great funk classics are lovingly slapped on top of montage sequences, and each sports movie lesson is reliably learned. So, while hackneyed in its “triumph of the human spirit” content, Pride works within its own limitations and does its subject matter, well, proud.