By Bradley Lane
If you’re anything like me, your free time these past few weeks has been dominated by the recent NBA restart. This had me recently considering some of the greatest films centering around the sport. Hoosiers is certainly a sentimental standout and Hoop Dreams was and is revolutionary in its depiction of the realities of working-class life, but neither of those are readily available on streaming services. However, one of the best works of documenting basketball on film ever produced is available on Netflix and it just released earlier this year, Jason Hehir’s The Last Dance.
Utilizing extensive and impressively well-maintained footage from the 1997-1998 championship Bulls season, director Jason Hehir delivers a personal and genuinely affecting portrait of a team, and of the often-mythologized Jordan himself. The structure of the series lends itself to fresh storytelling by focusing on two separate narratives; the first being an overarching portrait of Jordan’s career and the second being an intimate view of the 97-98 season. This means that when pivotal moments of that specific season occur, we have built the stakes previously and have full context as an audience as to why this is important both professionally and personally.
This balance between the on and off court content makes each episode of The Last Dance feel as though it were developed as an original work of fiction. With clearly developed personal dynamics between the players, the basketball court functions almost like a stage where those rivalries, bonds and tensions play out in the most spectacular of fashions. These personal dynamics are supplied by modern interviews with a majority of the players, coaches and tangentially related characters including but not limited to Jordan himself, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Isiah Thomas, Phil Jackson, Larry Bird and many, many more.
However, the cast of 90 interviewees and over 500 hours of footage captured during that 97-98 season would be nothing without the vision of director Jason Hehir. I cannot stress enough just how well paced each beat of the overarching narrative is within the context of the whole piece. It feels much more like a long film than a 10-part mini-series.
Jason Hehir accomplishes a feat of modern masterpiece in The Last Dance and should be an absolute must watch for any basketball fan, young and old alike. The Last Dance is available to stream on Netflix – 4.5/5 stars