You'd be forgiven for expecting Soul In The Hole to be nothing more than a re-heated Hoop Dreams, as it's another docuflick about basketball. But while Steve James' '94 movie followed two young college players who dreamed of making it to the NBA, Danielle Gardner's effort weaves street-level tension and emotion into an absorbing study which arguably achieves much more.
The real-life drama revolves around a motley group of individuals bound together by concrete playgrounds and a shared enthusiasm for hoop and ball. Soul In The Hole received a huge level of critical acclaim on its release in America back in '97, and when the Kings play ball, it's easy to see why.
The street matches which run throughout the documentary are fast, furious and eye-popping - - they're unfeigned slices of raw, entertaining basketball at its most passionate... Which makes a pleasant change from the money-driven glitz of the NBA.
But Gardner is also keen to show the other side of the playground chainlink, taking us onto the streets of Brooklyn to reveal the gritty reality behind the ball bouncing. There's another story here, told through the eyes of Ed Booger Smith who ran away from his mother as a kid, and turned to Kenny Jones for help. It's this flawless mix of background info and street tournaments that makes the film totally believable, and uncorrupted by Hollywood meddling.
In Brooklyn, basketball means everything, and Soul In The Hole illustrates the competitive spirit that unites the borough every summer. So full credit to Gardner, who found a fascinating bunch of people and shot them for months without knowing what the outcome would be. The result is a satisfying, refreshing drama that could never have been scripted nor predicted.