Generally favorable reviews - based on 32 Critics What's this?

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Generally favorable reviews- based on 50 Ratings

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  • Starring: , ,
  • Summary: Believe in the power of words. Inspired by a true story, The Great Debaters chronicles the journey of Professor Melvin Tolson, a brilliant but volatile debate team coach who uses the power of words to shape a group of underdog students from a small African-American college in the Deep South into a historically elite debate team. A controversial figure, Professor Tolson challenged the social mores of the time and was under constant fire for his unconventional and ferocious teaching methods as well as his radical political views. In their pursuit for excellence, Tolson's debate team receives a groundbreaking invitation to debate Harvard University's championship team. [The true story saw the team debating the University of Southern California.] (Weinstein Company) Expand
Score distribution:
  1. Positive: 24 out of 32
  2. Negative: 0 out of 32
  1. 100
    This is a film that is affirming and inspiring and re-creates the stories of a remarkable team and its coach.
  2. The Great Debaters is like one of those sentimentally revved youth-sports-team crowd-pleasers. This time, though, the sport is debating, and the setting is an elite black college in Marshall, Tex., in 1935
  3. The three young actors are good, but the movie is held together from beginning to end by another riveting performance from Washington. Few actors can dominate a film with their diction as well as Washington, and the role of the erudite, passionate Mel Tolson gives him plenty of opportunity.
  4. Mr. Washington is splendid, as always. So is Forest Whitaker as James Farmer, Sr.
  5. 67
    Even when you're disappointed with the film's predictability, there's something invigorating about the way it embraces literacy and argument.
  6. 60
    About midway through Denzel Washington's new film The Great Debaters comes a raw and terrifying scene that exemplifies why the movie's worth seeing, despite its hackneyed and awkward story.
  7. Reviewed by: Nick Pinkerton
    The film avoids potentially interesting frictions by always letting the team debate (and win) on the "correct" side of every issue--that which aligns with generally accepted modern liberal sympathies. The kids follow their party line all the way to the big game, a ridiculous, fallacy-riddled face-off against Harvard.

See all 32 Critic Reviews

Score distribution:
  1. Positive: 19 out of 21
  2. Mixed: 0 out of 21
  3. Negative: 2 out of 21
  1. Feb 22, 2013
    The Great Debaters is another inspirational tale of the oppressed, but unlike most, this film has the distinction of being pretty close to historically accurate. I was hesitant to see this film, because who wants to watch a film about a debate team? Denzel Washington, however, happens to be one of my favorite actors, so I gave it a shot and learned quite a bit. The debate team was just an instrument, and was comprised of four people who would all go on to play significant roles in the Civil Rights Movement. The films follows award winning author, Melvin Tolson (Washington), on his journey to create the best African-American College debate team in the country, a team that would eventually go on to challenge the debate team at Harvard University. Everything about this movie was extremely powerful and well done. From the language to the graphic imagery to the story and the performances I was completely blown away by this film. I went into it thinking, if it's bad I'll turn if off after a half-hour. Now, I'm thinking about watching it again tomorrow. This is the way historical films should be done, The Great Debaters was fair, accurate, and just a great film! Expand
  2. Jennifer
    Dec 29, 2007
    Awesome movie!!! This is a good quality film. Well done. Make sure you don't miss this movie. Very inspiring!
  3. AndrewK.
    Jan 3, 2008
    Unforgettable story of tenacity in the face of naked oppression.
  4. EdnaM.
    Dec 26, 2007
    An inspiring MUST SEE. Can't wait to see it again.
  5. JimC.
    Dec 28, 2007
    Should've gone for topicality. Or maybe the K. Otherwise, good film.
  6. MarjorieS.
    Dec 27, 2007
    I think this is a very, very important movie.
  7. JustinC.
    Jan 19, 2008
    Director Denzel Washington and producer Oprah Winfrey sizzle up the bacon with a smart idea. And you know what? This idea succeeds, director Denzel Washington certainly functioned this film with a heart, but no soul. It is mechanically let out, sappy, and weak. It isn't the spoiled product Denzel and Oprah are selling, and making money off of, and the Golden Globe nomination. It is the motion capture, it has crisp cinematography, but no fun. The day time being used for each scene is practically a seemingly 3:15 in the afternoon, with that sun starting to set, all nice and bright. It just bores you by the poor lighting, and camera-shot views. There is nothing special about this, just that I am very surprised what I am seeing here on the internet. What's the hype anyway? I didn't know so many people liked Oprah. Maybe its Denzel Washington, coming back to life on the big screen a month or so later than his previous installment American Gangster, starring as Frank Lucas. Just the problem with The Great Debaters is that Denzel's argument is Exceedingly weak, racism about black people in most movies is a settling downfall to see them do the exact same thing again in this. And they obviously win the debate, but its just a bore, it is pointless. The story is good, the movie could have came to a great success, but I was just left Awfully disappointed. This is probably the biggest letdown of the year. Expand

See all 21 User Reviews