In Review: ESPN Films' Unguarded
The latest documentary from ESPN Films, Unguarded, debuted on Tuesday night. The film chronicles former college basketball star Chris Herren's battle with drug addiction and alcoholism. The film was directed by Jonathan Hock, who may be familiar to sports fans as the director of The Best That Never Was, Through The Fire and Off The Rez.
Herren rose to prominence in Fall River, Mass. as a standout point guard at Durfee high school. It was also in Fall River where Herren would fall into the trap of drugs and alcohol that would dictate most of his life as a basketball player. A troubled, yet outstanding, collegiate career at Fresno State would eventually help Herren get drafted by the Denver Nuggets in the second round of the 1999 NBA Draft. After one year in Colorado Herren was traded to the Boston Celtics, where his troubles with drugs, alcohol and painkillers would ultimately begin to derail his life and professional career. Herren claims that his addictions to painkillers, cocaine, heroin and alcohol were something that he kept a secret from his wife, family and his employers.
Throughout the film we see and hear Herren delivering a series of speeches to teenagers, residents at a drug treatment centre and soldiers. Interviews with Herren, his wife Heather, his brother Mike and various clips from his well traveled basketball playing days and home videos are spliced with footage from Herren's speeches over the course of the documentary. Given the degree to which Herren fell from grace, we're left to wonder how much of a secret Herren's addictions truly were considering two NBA teams gave up on him so quickly.
Although the tale of wasted talent is a familiar one, you can't help but become enthralled in Herren's recounting of his own rise and fall. His brutal retelling of multiple overdoses and arrests, constantly fighting to avoid getting "dope sick" and an immense level of self awareness make for one of the hardest hitting entries in ESPN's catalogue of documentaries.
Unguarded has the ability to bring on the waterworks, especially in an early scene where Herren is reunited with his former coach at Fresno State, Jerry Tarkanian, and in several snippets of Herren detailing the depths he sunk to in order to feed his addictions to Oxycontin and heroin in particular.
Overall, it's a thoroughly engrossing piece of work. Like Hock's previous forays into the realm of sports, poor decision making on the part of the protagonist sets up the narrative. It's not a film that begs for your sympathy, instead, Unguarded presents a story of immense struggle and heartbreak while championing the "one day at a time" approach to redemption.
The Verdict: 7.9/10
For more on Chris Herren check out his memoir with Bill Reynolds: Basketball Junkie
Big thanks to @Jose3030 for the video.