”Draw blood!” coach Bill Resler orders his Roughriders, the varsity basketball squad from Seattle’s upper-middle-class Roosevelt High School. And they do. They are the ”pack of wolves” he tells them to be. Then they’re a ”tropical storm,” a ”pride of lions.” The scorched-earth metaphors (as effective as they are hokey) rotate faster than the bench over the seven savage seasons covered in the pulse-racing docu-rah-rah The Heart of the Game, but Resler’s kill-or-be-killed philosophy remains as fixed as the pupils of a hungry predator. Why does a coach’s stoking of adolescent bloodlust feel thrilling here, as opposed to, well, a little scary? Frankly, because these are girls, not boys. So might the same techniques routinely blamed for turning young males into raging, entitled pack animals actually convert self-doubting high school females into proud, sisterly she-wolves?
When such interesting questions aren’t answered (or even articulated), one wishes Heart used its head a little more. But filmmaker Ward Serrill is not a social scientist. He’s a gifted sports photographer, and from the moment inner-city wonder girl Darnellia Russell enters the picture — becoming the reluctant star of both the (mostly white) team and the movie — Serrill is just as invested in the girls’ success as they are. On these terms, the film is a furious full-court press, its subjects aflame with the kind of passion only youth can furnish. Even their bruises are luminous.