The Pistol: The Birth of a Legend is not so much a movie as it is a sermon. But the cinema has often preached, and the filmmakers honor the late Pete Maravich’s memory by bringing his sermon to the screen.

The film focuses on 1959, the year the eighth-grade Pete joined his high-school varsity basketball team, gained media attention, and displaced seasoned senior players. As the young Pete, 13-year-old Adam Guier demonstrates not only a repertoire of deft moves and trick shots, but the full range of emotions of an adolescent following his dreams while struggling with self-doubt. Despite awkward editing and the incessant and invasive voice-over from the “adult Pete,” Pistol provides good moments of entertainment and inspiration.

Dreams can be achieved, say Pete’s father and his English teacher at every turn, with confidence and hard work. And Pistol takes every opportunity to preach this gospel of dedication and effort almost as a eulogy to the late “Press” Maravich.

Although (or perhaps because) the film succeeds at its sermonizing, it fails to explore other important themes inherent in the narrative. The elder Maravich pressed his dreams for his son’s success so incessantly that surely young Pete must have struggled with his sense of identity. Yet all we see are typical adolescent self-esteem problems. In addition, the film introduces the subject of racial tensions in late-1950s Louisiana, but it never gets beyond stereotypes of uptight whites and hot-dogging black athletes. Had the artistic vision of the filmmakers moved beyond Maravich’s personal message, Pistol would have had greater depth.

Cultural conservatives have applauded Pistol for its lack of nudity and offensive language (the coach does not swear at his players; and even in the locker room, these teens don’t take their clothes off). The warm relationship between Pete and his father, and the preaching of the American Dream make this film a talkie for the Silent Majority. But the gospel of Pistol is closer to the proto-Puritanism of Proverbs than the self-sacrificial ethic of the Sermon on the Mount.

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