The Akron Holy War (2017) Review

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Gridiron Jihad

The Akron Holy War (2017): 5 out of 10: A documentary focusing on the football rivalry between two catholic high schools in the city of Akron (Archbishop Hoban High School and St. Vincent–St. Mary High School) covering sixty years of games and tradition.

The Good

The Good: Are you from Akron? Do you like high school football? Did you go to one of these schools? Would you like to see LeBron James lose at a football game or two? If so, you are in luck. The Akron Holy War is for you. Everyone else… well, let’s look at the bad.

The Bad

The Bad: You know I owe Ken Burns’ Baseball a slight apology. I complained that Mr. Burns used the documentary as more of a platform to talk about racism in America than the purported subject of baseball. But what would happen if he just stuck to baseball? The actual games without looking at the outside world or even telling stories of the personalities involved. The Akron Holy War answers that question.

The Akron Holy War consists of some in game footage, a lot of talking head interviews with people you don’t know, and some footage of the schools themselves. It never really tells a story.

For example, The Akron holy War mentions that one of the High schools (Hoban) was set to be shut down in the late seventies but the movie never says why. (The population of Akron dropped dramatically combined with an economic recession made parochial school prohibitive for many families mixed with some white flight after the 1968 Wooster Avenue riots were likely the causes but the film doesn’t mention any of this.)

I mean the population of Akron in 1960 was 290,351 it currently sits at 197,597 that is a dramatic drop that is simply not mentioned. This is a booster film. It is a booster film for the schools involved; it is a booster film for the City of Akron, heck; it is a booster film for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Cleveland.

The interviews never go beyond what you might hear in a bar. (A lot of them seem to take place in a bar now I think about it) There is an awful lot of this happened and then this happened and then that happened interspersed with an endless amount of you had to be there and you will never know what it was like. We never delve deep into anyone’s story. We never learn why any of this matters.

The Ugly

The Ugly: 2013’s Big Men is one of the best documentaries I have reviewed on this site. I state in my review, “On paper, this should not be that good a documentary. The subject matter of an American oil exploration company negotiating with a government for oil leasing and exploration rights is not exactly sexy.” And it isn’t. What makes it work is we over the course of an hour and a half to get to know the people involved. We are in their homes. We see them succeed and fail and feel their frustration and greed. (In all fairness, the story, through pure luck, becomes surprisingly interesting, but my point still stands.)

There are personalities and people in The Akron Holy War, but no one seems to get more than a few minutes in a strange version of everyone gets a turn. Since they all have the same message (This is the biggest game of the year) it becomes repetitive quick.

In Conclusion

In Conclusion: The Akron Holy War has some great stories and people I would love to know more about. (The coaches in particular have interesting tales tucked just offscreen.)

At the end of the film, they spend ten minutes covering the latest game of the rivalry. Since we haven’t really met any of the participants, we have no reason to root for one side or the other. It is the people that matter, not the game. Give me a reason to care and I will.


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