“Through the Fire” is a fraud masquerading as a documentary. It is allegedly the true-life story of Sebastian Telfair, a Brooklyn high school student whose extraordinary basketball skills propelled him from the inner city playgrounds through the public school tournaments and straight into the NBA. Telfair was offered and rejected a scholarship to the University of Louisville, signing instead with the Portland Trailblazers in a much ballyhooed snub at the college basketball world.
Is that a spoiler? Hardly – at no time during the course of “Through the Fire” does Telfair seriously embrace the university’s offer. He accepts the scholarship initially, but it is blatantly half-hearted and he constantly chatters about going pro (even coach Rick Pitino acknowledges Telfair is a lost cause to him).
However, “Through the Fire” is so full of holes that it is less of a movie and more of digital Swiss cheese. During the course of the film, young Telfair holds press conferences and conducts TV interviews. There is also a photo shoot on a Coney Island pier that lands him on the cover of Sports Illustrated. But it is never explained who set up these media opportunities – did a high school student do all this by himself? And speaking of high school, we never see Telfair attend a class, do homework, or even graduate from school. So much for higher education (the Telfair residence is conspicuously absent of books).
Telfair’s talent in basketball nets him an astonishing endorsement with Adidas. But who negotiated this deal? Did he have a lawyer, business manager, and/or accountant weigh in? If so, these people are absent. The film’s press kit lists Telfair as having eight siblings, but only three are in the movie. Where are the others? And who is the girl in his limo towards the end of the movie? The film carefully avoids suggesting Telfair has a love for anything but basketball.
Capping the insult to the viewer’s intellect are the endless references to ESPN, who is presenting this film for theatrical release. Talk about obnoxious product placement!
At one point, Telfair’s older half-brother Jamel (a one-time college basketball star who did not make the NBA and wound up playing professionally in Greece) acknowledges that he forced Telfair from getting a tattoo because it would damage his image. So much for spontaneous development. Both men cite Tiger Woods as a role model, which is no short irony. Like the celebrated golfer, Telfair seems less of an organic happening than a carefully and cynically managed entity designed to use athletic prowess to cash in on lucrative marketing deals.
“Through the Fire” wants to imagine it is inspiring. In truth, the film is emetic.