The Phantoms is a television movie inspired by the heart-warming, real-life events surrounding the 2009 New Brunswick provincial championship victory by the Bathurst High School (BHS Phantoms) boys varsity basketball team, a year after a terrible road accident takes the lives of seven players and the coach’s wife. In the following school year, as tragedy hangs over the community, the BHS Phantoms are reconstituted. The ragtag bunch of players gels as a team, and manages to lift community spirit on the long road to the provincial basketball finals.
This is an earnest and honest attempt at that familiar sub-genre of movie: the based on a real story of a small community that tragically lost several players in an accident, and in which a group of ragtag players reform a team to play again to either honor the dead students, or because “they would have wanted it,” or both. If calling to earnest and honest sounds like I am damning it with faint praise, I suppose I am, but it is still praise. I don’t regret the time watching it, and if the plot intrigues you, especially as it is based on actual events, I recommend it. But the movie seemed, well, awkward to me. That is a strange way to describe it, but it was just a little off the mark it seemed, in small ways. I thought the new student who wanted to form a team to better his college chances was a bit too aggressive, that the dialogue at times was a tad cliched, that the romance between two students was just awkward enough to suggest it was shoehorned into the script. (We have the grieving coach, the hurt teachers and parents who don’t want to push the old team to the background, the nervous dance of the new team bonding - yes,now we just need a romance.) Again, I don’t mean to denigrate the movie. It is a well-intentioned, worthy effort and it works in places. But it sort of felt like the production team was checking off boxes and perhaps should have been more contemplative rather than raw and emotional while delving into the well of pain in this community.