The Basket

on August 20, 1999 by Mike Kerrigan
   Right on the heels of "My Dog Skip" comes another ray of hope for the family audience. This ravishing-looking movie, set in the Pacific Northwest towards the end of the First World War, is certainly something for the kids, but parents and indeed other generations will be delightfully entertained too.

   The always interesting Peter Coyote is a new teacher in a one-roomed school in the rolling farmlands of Washington state. He teaches the kids with two valuable tools. One is basketball, a game unknown in the area but with which the Boston-bred teacher has more than a passing acquaintance. The other is a German opera about survival that he doles out like a serial, and pretty soon the whole town is hooked on the saga.

   Of course, it being a German opera doesn't sit too well with some of the locals. Neither does the fact that a couple of refugees are pupils at the school. The stage is set for drama and life lessons and "The Basket" delivers in a gentle but purposeful way.

   The basketball scenes are apparently authentic and often hilarious. It's all so leisurely, with scores barely reaching double figures and players swilling beer and lighting stogies at half time. The story of the opera, whose English title is "The Basket," weaves its way through the plot, finding touchstones along the way.

   Director Rich Cowan gets bravura performances from cast and crew, aided in no small way by the gorgeous camera work of Don Heigh. There is a rather forced backstory about the schoolteacher's checkered past and some bad deeds seem to go unpunished, but overall this is a wonderful film for the whole family. Starring Peter Coyote, Karen Allen, Amber Willenborg and Robert Karl Burke. Directed and produced by Rich Cowan. Written by Frank Swoboda, Tessa Swoboda, Don Carson and Rich Cowan. A North by Northwest release. Drama. Rated PG for some mild violence and brief language. Running time: 104 min

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