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Tribeca Movie Review: Benji

by Kris Venezia
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WFUV's Tribeca Movie Reviews

With so many basketball films out there, does the world really need another one? Yes, it does. Benji looks back at 1984’s number one high school baller in the United States: Ben Wilson. The Chicago teenager represents hope and potential for a city that struggles with violence and drugs. Directors Coodie and Chike, who have put together music videos for the likes of Kanye West and Christina Aguilera, intertwine the Midwest metropolis with the life of the young Wilson.

The movie establishes early on the tragic fate of the talented Wilson, but rather than mourn the heartbreaking death, Benji focuses on the story of how he became a Chicago celebrity. Coodie and Chike rely on testimony from friends of the basketball player, and Wilson has numerous friends to paint a picture of the 6’ 7” guard. Some of these friends include notable names such as singer/songwriter R. Kelly, NBA player Juwan Howard and talent scout Bob Gibson.

Even though the audience knows it’s coming, the two gunshots that halted the promising future of Ben Wilson still come as a devastating shock. When discussing the aftermath of the death, Coodie and Chike continue to provide an upbeat tone by attempting to focus on the positive impact Wilson’s life had on the city. His passing leads to stricter gun laws and raises awareness nationwide about the issues threatening one of the largest cities in the United States.

With little game footage captured of the high school sensation, the filmmakers have to find creative ways to tell the story by using more than just interviews. Coodie and Chike successfully utilize an animated, comic-book style to put together some of the documentary’s most important moments. One example is with the reenactment of the murder; by taking this lighter approach, the directors paint the picture of what happens without unnecessary gore.

Benji is sure to please whether or not you are a basketball fan, as the inspiring story of the young athlete captivates the audience. This riveting tale, mixed with the creativity of Coodie and Chike, makes the documentary a film that cannot be missed.

Benji is nothing but net, and I give it five out of five stars.

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