Although Netflix’s “The Redeem Team” is more or less a run-of-the-mill sports documentary, the film’s pacing and conciseness makes it worth the watch.
The movie focuses on the 2008 U.S. Men’s Olympic Basketball Team, dubbed “The Redeem Team,” following a disappointing bronze-medal finish at the 2004 Olympics. Beginning with footage from the 2004 Olympics, the documentary builds toward the crucial 2008 victory by tracking the team’s growing chemistry each summer when it convenes for exhibition matches.
“The Redeem Team” succeeds in establishing reasons for viewers to become heavily invested despite having just over a 90-minute runtime. The film sets up key narratives for sports fans to cling to, such as Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski being called upon to coach professional players.
Most prominently, the documentary explores another chapter in the legend of Kobe Bryant. The latter half of the film is structured around his integration into the national team. Despite arguably staking claim as the best player in the NBA at the time, Bryant uses the first practice to send a message to the rest of the team, electing to make hustle plays that are usually reserved for lower-level role players.
Because the team was composed primarily of star players, the film emphasizes Bryant’s importance in reminding the rest of the roster that sacrifices are necessary from each individual to better the team's chances.
“The Redeem Team” also spends a brief amount of time covering Bryant’s more complicated legacy. To contextualize the significance of his return to the national team, the documentary highlights the fact he had become largely villainized, both for his legal troubles off the court and his role in forcing superstar Shaquille O’Neal off the Los Angeles Lakers. The documentary fails to go deeper into Bryant’s complicated history, but it manages to use his personal redemption efforts to parallel the objectives of the team.
The documentary also references international conflict at the time, making various analogies between the U.S. team competing on the national stage and the soldiers who represent the U.S. and risk their lives. While these comparisons generally feel flawed at best, the movie does contain one relevant moving scene, in which Coach K invites a wounded soldier to meet with the team to share his story, becoming a source of inspiration.
The film is especially compelling because it features a large number of interviews from people involved with the team, including the late Bryant, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard and Carlos Boozer.
Among the most interesting tidbits from the interviews is Bryant’s relationship with the other players. Each interviewee reinforces the idea that Bryant did not have close friends in the sport, making him an enigmatic and intimidating presence early on. However, through archival footage, he is shown to have built a strong camaraderie with the rest of the group, even sharing leadership responsibilities with James.
One interesting detail to note is that James and Wade produced “The Redeem Team,” meaning any potential negative interviews would likely be omitted in order to support the feel-good story portrayal of their gold medal finish. The movie rarely touches on any negativity or tension within the team itself. If there was any significant conflict during the leadup to the Olympics, very little of it made the final cut of the film.
While “The Redeem Team” may occasionally feel as though it unfairly seeks to portray the U.S. team’s road to victory in 2008 as an underdog story, it accurately highlights the reasons why the group failed to impress in the previous Olympics. The 2004 team was too talented to lose in the fashion it did. Their failures are ultimately chalked up to mismanagement, which makes it easier for the documentary to portray Krzyzewski and new director of U.S. Olympic Basketball Jerry Colangelo as saviors.
Overall, the documentary is able to balance its ambition and share minor, interesting stories while never veering too far away from the Olympic team itself. It feels longer than 90 minutes, but in the best way possible. Not a second is spent away from sharing compelling anecdotes.
Unlike many sports documentaries, it does not feel like most details shared can be found on the team’s Wikipedia page. Any fan looking for more sports-centric content should definitely check out Netflix’s “The Redeem Team.”