In 1990, Kevin Laue was born with only a right arm; ten years later, his father, who had pushed him hard to persevere despite his disability, died of cancer. Haunted by the feeling that he let his father down, Laue vowed to make something of himself and, sometime during junior high, began training with the rival school’s basketball coach. By sixteen, the nearly seven-foot-tall Laue had become a whiz at blocking, rebounds, hook shots and slam dunks. Franklin Martin’s documentary, “Long Shot: The Kevin Laue Story,” chronicles Laue’s three-year, obstacle-fraught journey from his glory days at a California high-school to his rigid training period at military academy Fork Union to his recruiting, at long last, by Manhattan College’s Division I team in 2009.
A former Division I coach himself, Martin certainly knows how to generate tension and pathos during the athletic scenes. He makes his awe at Laue’s talent palpable; the fact that Laue is left-handed yet lacks a left hand makes his prowess on the court all the more staggering. And the audience will surely share his outrage at the college recruiters’ discrimination (because of his handicap, Laue is last to be picked from his graduating class, despite leading in rebounds and blocks).
But what’s special about Martin’s film isn’t watching his subject’s dazzling moves, or the predictable ups and downs that comprise most sports docs. Wisely, Martin doesn’t turn Laue into a god; he isn’t afraid to show his subject’s awkward or vulnerable side, and that’s what makes him so likable, so full of heart. Take away his athletic skills, and Laue is somewhat of a geek, with braces and messy red hair (his coach calls him “my big red-headed stepchild”) and a shy, self-effacing manner. Laue was picked on earlier in his life, and Long Shot might have been even more powerful had it captured some of this adversity; by the time Martin met Laue, he was a high school superstar.
Yet there’s more than enough poignant scenes here that emphasize Laue’s everyday struggles. The by-now familiar scene of a star player missing a vital foul shot and blowing the game is given substantial weight here, when Martin lingers on Laue’s sobbing self-loathing following the gaffe. The way Laue’s coach weeps, when an injury forces him off the team, shows how even the most hard-headed, macho figures in Laue’s life are moved by his dedication. And when Laue grows despondent during the stagnant, exhausting months at Fork Union, we can’t wait for him to heal and set about his goal again.
Only a few sequences in Long Shot venture into overly sentimental territory. The video footage of Laue’s father’s parting words to his son is tapped a bit too frequently, especially towards the end; we’ve already been sufficiently touched by Laue’s lifelong devotion to him. And when then-president George W. Bush personally greets Laue, to express his admiration, the music is a tad heroic given Bush’s track record; it’s a kick, however, seeing how pint-sized Bush appears next to the towering Laue.
(currently being shown in limited release in New York).
Find out more about this movie here: http://www.thekevinlauestory.com/