Combustible Celluloid
With: Anthony Ammons, Rafael Cuevas, Tevin Fournette, Dejon Joy, Allan McIntosh, Stacey Redman, Sam Robinson, Cornell Shields, Harry Smith
Written by: n/a
Directed by: Michael Tolajian
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 96
Date: 05/17/2019

Q Ball (2019)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Net Worth

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Splitting its time fairly evenly between action on the court and soulful subject interviews, this documentary effectively and movingly demonstrates the healing power of teamwork and positive thinking.

In Q Ball, several convicts in California's oldest prison, San Quentin, participate in a basketball program. The documentary focuses mainly on star forward Harry "ATL" Smith, whose impressive skill could lead to a future in the NBA, if he can focus and learn to trust his teammates before his parole comes along. Coach Rafael Cuevas, a convicted murderer, does his best to make sure the team practices discipline and positivity.

Older convict Allan "Black" McIntosh, a non-violent victim of the "Three Strikes" law, acts as quiet role model. The team — called the Warriors — embarks upon its season, wherein volunteer teams come into the prison yard for games, they all look forward to the final game against the Golden State Warriors' G League team.

Directed by Michael Tolajian — and executive produced by the Golden State Warriors' star Kevin Durant — Q Ball opens with an accidentally-captured fight in the yard, and does not shy away from the horrors of violence, but does so with caution and consideration. In his interview, Cuevas regretfully tells his story, murdering Timothy Griffith outside Giants stadium in 2004, but with a full awareness of his emotional state, what led to his actions, and awareness of how not to tread that path again.

Conversely, Griffith's mother states in her interview that Cuevas should never be forgiven. It's two sides of a bitter, complex coin, and Tolajian wisely shows them both. Smith is the main focus here, however; he's 31 and his parole isn't far away, and his talent makes him the best hope to be "the first convicted felon to suit up in an NBA jersey." Regardless of whether that happens, Smith, whose fight with a drunken girlfriend that led to a "domestic abuse" charge, is still a strong presence; he's even shown leading a church gathering and bringing the congregation to tears.

If the movie has a flaw, it's that the basketball sequences are edited as a series of random nifty plays, instead of building the suspenseful narrative of an actual game. Otherwise, Q Ball is tremendously moving, and tremendously hopeful.

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