This ragged, but rewarding documentary about Lithuania's national basketball team features a magnificent scene at the 1992 Olympics showing the players heading out to collect their medals wearing eye-popping tie-dyed clothing. The title credits to the film are accompanied by the Grateful Dead’s “Truckin.’” About two-thirds of the way through the production, Lithuanian basketball great Sarunas Marciulionis, then a player in the NBA, says, “We had to play a game in Detroit, and the day before the Grateful Dead had a concert there. Their music was different and there were flickering lights and an interesting smell throughout the arena. And I thought, how are we going to play tomorrow with that smell in the arena?"
All of this begs the questions: What the hell was the connection between the Lithuanium basketball team and the Grateful Dead, and did Marciulionis really not know what the smell in the arena was? If you know the story of the team, you’ll want to see The Other Dream Team because it makes the events even richer by putting them in historical context. If you’re unfamiliar with the facts, then get ready for a satisfying experience. And don’t worry about any spoilers in this essay. The joy of the movie comes not from knowing what happens, but from seeing it all play out.
Director Marius A. Markevicius’ documentary has problems. He fails to include enough identification labels for the many subjects being interviewed, making it had to keep track of all the faces. And in an attempt to show the legacy of the team, he interweaves the story of young Jonas Valanciunas, a 2011 NBA draft prospect from Lithuania. The digression is distracting and mildly annoying. Luckily, the flaws do not substantially detract from the production.
Lithuania, a European nation of 3 million located between Germany and the former Soviet Union, was invaded and annexed by the Soviet Union in WWII. Cut to the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics, where Lithuanian basketball aces Arvydas Sabonis, Valdemaras Chomicius, Rimas Kurtinaitis and Marciulionis were forced to play for the USSR, which beat the US team. The Lithuanian men were terribly disappointed to win under the name of the oppressive USSR. The US was bothered enough by the defeat that, four years later, they assembled the “Dream Team” including superstars Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Charles Barkley.
I should stress here that you don’t need to be a basketball fan to enjoy the documentary. The film is about the quest for freedom, the pride of a nation and the joy of sport. It is rich with personality and quite rewarding overall.
There are funny parts too. In addition to the marijuana smoke business, there’s the field trip story, where a Soviet coach decides to motivate his mostly non-Soviet team by taking them to visit Lenin’s tomb. Or the tales of visits to America — watch the defensive reaction of one player when his teammates identify him as being especially adept at purchasing American items for resale back home. The Other Dream Team is a stirring crowd-pleaser that was a hit on the film festival circuit. I recommend it.
★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2
Ben Affleck directs and stars in a terrific recounting of the amazing true story of how the CIA rescued six American trapped in the home of the Canadian ambassador during the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis. The plan: Send in a fake movie scout for a bogus sci-fi flick and slip the six Americans out disguised as film crew members. Even though the ending is well known, Affleck masterfully maintains the tension, tempering it with welcome laughs provided by two veteran filmmakers involved in the scheme (Alan Arkin and John Goodman). Affleck throws in too much Hollywood bullshit at the end to further ratchet up the tension (the cars chasing a big vehicle did not happen in real life), but the film is still a doozy. 120 minutes.