“Rise”, which was released on Disney+ on last Friday, is a wholesome family sports drama based on the inspiring true story of one Nigerian immigrant family. While it is often quite predictable in many aspects, the movie is balanced well between enough realism and those feel-good moments, and you will surely come to root for its main characters more than expected while also touched a lot by how they stick together for a better life.
In the beginning, we are introduced to Charles Antetokounmpo (Dayo Okeniyi) and his wife Veronica (Yetide Badaki), and the opening part of the film depicts their difficult journey to Greece in 1990. After leaving Nigeria together, they stay in Istanbul, Turkey for a while, but then they almost get caught by the police along with many other illegal immigrants at one night. Even after they manage to pass the border between Turkey and Greece, they remain quite nervous, because there is still the big possibility of getting arrested and then deported at any moment.
Anyway, Charles and Veronica subsequently come to settle in Athens during next two decades. While their first son still remains in Nigeria, they come to have no less than four more sons, and they keep trying their best for giving a good life to their sons, though both they and their sons still cannot get legal citizenship in Greece. As shown from one sudden tense moment, they may get promptly arrested if they are not very careful outside, and Charles and Veronica become more frustrated when they belatedly come to learn from their local lawyer that they have been systemically blocked from their goal from the very start.
Meanwhile, two of their sons, Giannis (Uche Agada) and Thanasis (Ral Agada), happen to become interested in playing basketball as discovering their considerable athletic potential. They eventually attempt to join a local basketball team later, and Charles is not so pleased about this mainly because this will possibly expose them more to the police, but he comes to support them anyway as a guy who had to put aside his professional football career in the past.
Of course, things do not look that hopeful for Giannis and Thanasis at first. While their team coach is quite supportive from the first day, they are often disadvantaged in many aspects besides still being quite inexperienced, and there is a little painful personal moment between them when one of them has to take off his sneakers for the other during a practice.
Nevertheless, Giannis and Thanasis do not give up at all under the full support and encouragement from their parents, and then there eventually comes a point where they begin to draw the attention of local scouts. Although they are frustrated again due to their status as illegal immigrants, they later get an agent at least, and their agent turns out to be much more loyal and resourceful than he seems at first.
While being a bit too conventional, the screenplay by Arash Amel constantly maintains its narrative momentum, and it also imbues enough life and personality to its main characters. Several small intimate moments between Charles and Veronica show us more of how enduring their relationship has been for many years, and it surely helps that Dayo Okeyniyi and Yetide Badaki click well with each other throughout the film. In case of Charles and Veronica’s four sons, we can discern why they brighten up their parents’ life everyday, and it is also engaging to watch how Giannis and Thanasis often lean on each other as they hone their athletic skills more and more along the story.
Under director Akin Omotoso’s competent direction, the prevalent optimistic spirit of the movie is counterbalanced by the harsh and dangerous reality surrounding Charles and Veronica and their sons. While they are usually happy together, their life also frequently goes through many ups and downs, and that aspect of their hard life is exemplified well by when they are suddenly prevented from entering their little residence due to failing to pay the rent in time. When Giannis comes to get an opportunity of lifetime later in the story, he and his family are certainly well aware of the considerable risk accompanying it, but they eventually decide to take a chance because they all know how important that opportunity is for Giannis.
In the end, everything in the story eventually culminates to the point where Giannis and his family desperately hope for the best, and the movie deftly handles this part on the whole. Even if you do not know that much about its main characters than me, you can easily see what will happen in advance, but the movie still holds our attention up to its expected dramatic moment, and it surely earns all the cheers and tears accompanying this moment.
Overall, “Rise” is a standard feel-good Disney flick, and I can think of several better basketball films such as Steve James’ great documentary film “Hoop Dreams” (1994) right now, but its story and characters are presented well with enough skill and emotion at least. Because Giannis Antetokounmpo serves as one of its executive producers, I was not so surprised by its positively clean-cut presentation of his family story, and I still wonder whether the movie can be improved via more realism and honesty, but I could put aside my small complaints while appreciating the good efforts from its cast and crew members – and that is fairly enough for me, folks.