'Rise' Review: NBA superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo's real-life story is stirring and inspiring
There's a 2018 NBA Mixtape on Giannis Antetokounmpo on YouTube. The highlight reel is all about some of his magnificent plays that season indicating he's every bit the 'Greek Freak' the world calls him. Disney+'s 'Rise' will surely see that video getting more hits over the new few months, and while at it, it also manages to induce some stirring tears, and a lump in the throat by the time it's done telling the story of an obscure athlete who climbed the rungs of stardom steadily after getting over those gut-wrenching hurdles.
It's very 'Creed'. It's not hard to imagine Sylvester Stallone's Rocky Balboa egg a young Giannis to build his game with the life-changing "one step at a time, one punch at a time". It's what he does. Giannis (Uche Agada) is ambitious, undeterred by setbacks, and most importantly, lovable in Akin Omotoso’s biopic on the Milwaukee Bucks star. 'Rise' is also more than just the player, it's about a family, and their sacrifices and prayers that played their part to get all the Antetokounmpos where they are today.
Much of the focus is on his late father, Charles (Dayo Okeniyi), a gutsy man who saves every penny after his undocumented Nigerian family lives in Greece dealing with the uncertainty of their fate every day, Yetide Badaki as mother Veronika is the family's pillar, and like Giannis said during the MVP awards — a true hero for the family. If Giannis told the writers to ensure that his brothers, Thanassis and Kostas were his biggest competition and motivation, then he should be happy with the finished product as the film pits his elder brother, Thano (Ral Agada) as his perfect partner growing up.
The movie doesn't need the viewer to be a Bucks fan, but Giannis surely deserves every bit of respect from those who don't know much about him. Part of it is a standard-issue sports biopic with some high-octane training montages, insurmountable adversities, great music, and motivational one-liners, but the core themes of family, hard work, grit, and skill remain intact throughout the 90-minute feature. Uche does particularly well as Giannis with that dazzling smile and the physique that gives the impression of a solid athlete. The rest of the cast holds their own and while it falls in the sports-drama cliche category at the end of the day, it's still compelling enough to keep you hooked.
'Rise' is streaming on Disney+.