Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Video review: "The Other Dream Team"

theotherdreamteam - interior

During a slow week for new video releases, you might want to take a timeout from mainstream fare to see “The Other Dream Team,” a scrappy little documentary about the Lithuanian national basketball team.

Playing in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, the Lithuanians did not prove much of an actual challenge to the better-known Dream Team, which consisted of American NBA stars like Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. (The U.S. beat them 127-76.)

But the team from Lithuania, which had for decades been absorbed as part of the Soviet Union, made history representing themselves as a sovereign nation – winning the bronze medal and defeating the Russian team in the process.

Director Marius A. Markevicius keeps the pace zippy, mixing archival footage of basketball games, news reels of Lithuanians marching for their independence as the Iron Curtain fell, plus contemporaneous interviews with the players and their opponents. Some are familiar faces – like Arvydas Sabonis and Sarunas Marciulionis, who both went on to productive NBA careers – while many others we’re meeting for the first time.

Particularly interesting is the portion about the 1988 Olympics, in which a USSR team with four Lithuanian starters beat the heavily-favored American squad. It led directly to the creation of the U.S. Dream Team. And it helped Lithuanians see that, despite being a tiny nation of 3 million, they could compete against the best teams from across the globe.

One misstep is repeatedly returning to the tale of Jonas Valanciunas, a Lithuanian player who ended up being drafted by the Toronto Raptors in 2011. Valanciunas isn’t a very compelling screen presence, and Markevicius doesn’t adequately tie in his story to that of the ’92 national team.

Still, “The Other Dream Team” is an often thrilling portrait of young men who were playing for their country at a time when it was shrugging off the shackles of totalitarianism. They were living the real hoops dream.

Video extras are fairly measly. There’s an audio commentary track by the director and his co-writer/producer, Jon Weinbach, plus a Q&A segment with the same pair.

Movie: 3 stars out of four
Extras: 2 stars

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