Tony Parker: The Final Shot
I’ll be honest with you guys: I wouldn’t normally open the my film reviews for the year with two documentaries, and especially two documentaries you could describe as being in the general “sport” genre, but here we are. For a variety of reasons I just haven’t been in a position to take in new dramas, science-fictions, biopics or what have you for the first two weeks of the year, and so I had to depend on something non-fictional once again. That’s not really a bad thing inherently of course, but it is, I think, a first for me. Thanks COVID!
One of the highlights of streaming television in the last twelve months was Jason Hehir’s The Last Dance, the Michael Jordan-centric documentary that documented the story of the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s. With Jordan’s magnetic personality at its heart, and the extraordinary narrative of that all-conquering Bulls time to play around with, it was a very entertaining and engaging thing to enjoy during lockdown. Now, we have something more than a little similar, just in feature form: a biopic of one of the more significant basketball players of the last twenty years, playing for one of its most successful teams. I mean, just look at that title. Was The Final Shot a film-medium equal to The Last Dance, or did it come off more as a lazy imitation?
Tony Parker, a basketball prodigy from a very young age, left France before his teens were up to join the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA. Twenty years later, as he goes through what will be his final season in the league, he reflects on his life, his evolution through the sport, his four NBA Championships and his efforts to give back to the communities that he came from.
The Final Shot doesn’t really match the level of The Last Dance, though I acknowledge that it is quite difficult to compare and contrast a 98-minute documentary film with a near ten hour documentary series. There are a good few reasons for this: the nature of the titular player, the squashed format making it largely impossible to explore his career in sufficient detail, the obvious stuff that gets left out in other aspects of his life. It’s not a bad film, and does give us an insider view, to an extent, of Parker, the Spurs and the, for my country anyway, not entirely well-known world of international basketball. But you won’t be seeing any “And from then on, it was personal”-level memes arising from this film.
When I say “the nature of the titular player” I can only elaborate by saying that Tony Parker is no Michael Jordan. Jordan dominates the frame whether he is on the court or sitting in an interview chair: every word out of the man seems quotable sometimes. Parker, in contrast, is an understated, almost reserved person, who seems out of place in someways with the shouting coaches, the trash-talking opponents and the baying crowds of the NBA. There’s a moment here where, upon receiving an honour from the French government, Parker is literally speechless at a podium, frozen, unable to fully enunciate his feelings. Jordan would have said three words and have everyone in awe. And it is a fair comparison because in style, editing, pace, The Final Shot is aping The Last Dance in a lot of ways, so it is only natural to draw a line between Parker and Jordan.
Which is not say that Parker is some dullard making you yawn for an hour and a half, it’s just that he seems like a genuinely modest guy who doesn’t quite believe the level of success he has managed to garner. That makes him likable, but doesn’t necessarily make him all that interesting: his musings on making it to the NBA, on winning the big one four times, on his role as an international player, it isn’t unengaging subject matter, but Parker isn’t the guy to really play himself up. That’s left to a myriad of other talking heads from all parts of his life, and they do their damnedest, but at the end of the day Parker clearly isn’t that comfortable having a camera put in his face like this, and the film suffers as a result.
And there is a lot that gets covered here. Whole years of Parker’s life and career fly by in seconds, as an obvious emphasis gets placed on his NBA Championships and his leading the French team to a victory in the EuroBasket back in 2013. This kind of Greatest Hits approach is necessary given the limited time, but ultimately a bit unsatisfying: the finer details of what went wrong, what went right and the really critical moment of any of those successes are mostly left to our imagination. Somewhat similarly, any discussion on Parker’s personal life is fairly neutered, aside from some vague references to his marriage to Eva Longeria that mostly amount to her looking on as he wins basketball games.
Whether the man likes it or not, the publicity heavy nature of that union was part of his life, and it’s a little frustrating to see it largely ignored (the film also attempts to craft a picture of a happy modern family life with his second wife, but they separated after the film was completed). I’m not saying that The Final Shot needs to take some kind of sensationalist perspective but it could do with being a bit more challenging of his subject, of trying to delve deep into what flaws or failures he may have had: his extramarital affairs, whether his brushes with celebrity affected his game, etc. Even The Last Dance, as sycophantic as it frequently was, left you in no doubt as to how much of a bastard Michael Jordan was: a similar multi-faceted portrait of Parker does not exist in The Final Shot.
So, what do we learn about Tony Parker in the course of The Final Shot then, other than he is not Michael Jordan and he isn’t very open about himself? Well, there are a few through-lines here worth considering. He’s somewhat innovative in terms of NBA history, being considered one of the masters of the so-called “teardrop shot”. His role on the national French side, which went somewhat disastrously in his early career and had a happier ending later, is of immense importance to him. International basketball is something I know very little about, but it’s clear that representing his nation is a very big deal for Parker, and the pain of the failure at an earlier EuroBasket, when Parker infamously claimed he was being called upon to “do everything” for the team, is etched on the man’s face. Finding some redemption for that, and giving back solidly to the nation of his birth, is clearly a huge motivating factor for him.
And then there is that last year of Parker’s career, when he left the Spurs to join Michael Jordan’s Charlotte Hornets. This is another curiously understudied aspect of Parker’s life, maybe because his one year with the Hornets was so humdrum, the only season of his time in the NBA when he didn’t get to the play-offs Going to Charlotte was clearly a late career spasm of a decision where Parker was attempting to maintain relevancy when he really should have just bowed out: the film frames its conclusion on that bowing out, done back with the Spurs like it was meant to be. Attempting to manufacture some drama over Parker’s fears he will be caught tongue-tied again as his jersey number is retired also doesn’t really work that well, The Final Shot suffering from, and I’m sorry to sound harsh, how milquetoast Parker seems to be. Even when we see the man with more of a celebrity status in China, or promoting his various non-basketball related enterprises, he still doesn’t come off as the sort of attractive personality that you need for documentaries of this type.
From a visual perspective, its nothing that you won’t have seen, at length, in The Last Dance a few months ago. Confessional interviews with Parker, his peers and his family are interspersed with footage of him in his home and with archive footage of his greatest moments on the court. The filmmaker, Florent Bodin, is unseen, contributing directly with some explanatory crawls on occasion. Lots of personalities make you take notice when they show up – Greg Popovich, Thierry Henry (ugh), even Kobe Bryant, the man filmed just a few weeks before his untimely death – but none of them are here to say anything other than variations on “Tony Parker is pretty great”. The feeling is of a very simple, maybe to a fault, documentary, that takes few risks with its presentation.
As such, there really isn’t all that much more to say about Tony Parker: The Final Shot. Owing to my ignorance of the subject matter I can’t say that I didn’t find the experience somewhat educational, but I do question the point of the education. There isn’t really all that much interesting about Parker to me, and on the really interesting parts of his life, The Final Shot pulls his punches. There doesn’t seem to be a unique take on his life here, and even in terms of recordation I wouldn’t say that the film offers anything that a cursory reading of Parker’s Wikipedia page doesn’t do. It’s fine for what it is, which is a 90 minute puff piece of a talented athlete not really in the mood for anything too challenging or controversial: instead it a celebration, a 30 For 30 episode masquerading as its own thing. And it isn’t something that I can really recommend.
(All images are copyright of Netflix).