A Close Analysis of Spike Lee’s He Got Game Claimed as Spike Lee best work since Malcolm X, He Got Game is a film about the relationship between a father and his son. In this film the father, Jake Shuttlesworth (Denzel Washington), is serving time in prison for murdering his wife. His son, Jesus Shuttlesworth (Ray Allen), is the nation’s top high school basketball prospect. The governor, being an avid basketball fan, has made a deal with Jake that will cut back his sentence if he can convince his son to go to the governor’s alma mater, Big State University.
Jake agrees, but much difficulty lies in dealing with a son who still hasn’t forgiven him for taking his mother’s life. It is around this difficulty that the plot is built. In this film Spike Lee uses different techniques of cinematography such camera angles, mise-en-scene, editing, and sound to enhance the feud between father and son.
He gives us insight into their feelings and motivations, he compares their personalities and attitudes, and he illustrates the dissonance between the two men through the use of these techniques.
In Jesus and Jake’s first meeting on the ball court, Lee makes use distance and space to increase the sense of separation between them. Empty space here is exaggerated through the use of a wide-angle lens. Jake is seen here in the foreground with Booger, Jesus’ cousin and Jesus in the background. If you watch closely, all three men keep a healthy distance apart.
When Jake approaches Booger to give him love, Booger backs away and leaves the court, reacting to the violation of the space that the director has created between these characters.
If that is the first thing you see of this movie; you feel a sense of fear and separation, like something is about to happen. This distance between Jake and Jesus is kept throughout the scene as they walk parallel paths across the court to the fence. When they get to the fence, the director purposely breaks the 180 degree rule by having close-ups taken from behind the fence and cutting from Jake left side to Jesus’ right side. When you see this, you have the impression that the two characters are separated by a fence.
As the film progresses, the scene I would like to analyze is when Jesus begins to accept his father more and more, the distance between the two actors decreases. For example, when they are walking along the beach later in the film, they are walking side by side and even making contact at times. A long lens or maybe a telephoto lens is used here to help flatten the distance. Also, in this scene Jake and Jesus are nearly always in the same shot.
In previous scenes, the two men were rarely seen in the same frame Lee always imposed that separation. This effects the viewers’ perception of the distance between them by making them seem farther apart. The use of space and distance in the ocean scene, however, creates a feeling of closeness because the distance is flattened and everything is in cluster. In this scene, Lee didn’t make a cut for about two minutes as the actors were being tracked walking down the beach conversing.
This illustrates intimacy and helps the audience glued and focused to the conversation they are having. The scene ends with a dramatic violation of space: Jake hugs Jesus. With this hug, Lee demonstrates another use of cinematography. He uses close-up shots to help reveal character emotions. First, there is a close-up of Jesus’ face as he looks down on his father. His expression reveals much of repulsion and not a little of disgust, but for the first time in the film we don’t see his anger toward his father.
Next, the camera is tilted down to catch a close-up of Jake. The grimace that follows indicates to us that he is deeply hurt by the situation and that he longs for the opportunity to once again be close to his boy. The use of cinematographic techniques made the viewers so understanding of the bad relationship between a father and son. Lee made sure to impose the separation starting from the first scene. The use of close-ups gave me as a viewer a sense of emotional connectedness.