“The Basket” earnestly strives to be a family-friendly movie that teaches a nice lesson while entertaining its audience, all while avoiding profanity, sex or violence.
And while it doesn’t succeed at being a particularly great piece of filmmaking, its sincerity and even-handedness make it a likable, pleasant movie to watch.
Set in the picturesque wheat fields of Waterville, Wash., in 1918, “The Basket” tells of two German children, orphaned by the war, who come to an interment camp, and then to the home of kindly Rev. Simms (Tony Lincoln).
Helmut (Robert Karl Burke) and Brigitta (Amber Willenborg) are ostracized somewhat for being Germans, though Helmut takes the brunt of it. It doesn’t help when a local boy comes home from the war, his leg having been shot off by German soldier; it helps even less when that boy eventually dies.
His father, Nicholas Emery (Jock MacDonald), has an irrational, almost unbelievable aversion to all things German. When the new school teacher in town, Martin Conlon (Peter Coyote), plays the German opera “The Basket” and uses its story to teach the children, Emery flips out. When his own sons have anything to do with Helmut or Brigitta (with whom one of the boys is in love), he flips out even more.
Naturally, by movie’s end, one or both of the German children will have done something selfless to help Emery see that Germans are people, too. You can count on that.
In fact, there are few surprises in “The Basket.” Peter Coyote’s astoundingly bad Boston accent is one of them; the weird revelation about Mr. Conlon’s past is another; the ill-fitting sideplot about the town trying to buy a tractor is another; the fact that an amateur basketball team poses a serious threat to the 70-game winning streak of a pro team is another one.
Oh, yeah, basketball. Aside from teaching German opera, Mr. Conlon also teaches the kids the new sport of basketball. This is where Helmut tries to fit in, working for hours to become good enough to play with the other boys, who are bigger and less German.
In the end, we learn lessons about teamwork, tolerance and love. These lessons are taught often in “family-friendly” movies; the difference here is that we’re not beaten over the head with them. Rich Cowan, who is co-writer (with three others, which may explain the multitude of directions it goes) and director, keep a steady hand throughout. One hardly even notices the occasionally ridiculous dialogue, because the overall feel of the film is one of pleasant sincerity, not sledgehammer-style moralizing. The film is also thankfully without the cute, cloying quasi-humor that usually permeates PG-rated family films.
In other words, though “The Basket” is too simplistic and occasionally amateurish to hold its own in the regular marketplace, it works well as a flick you can take the whole family to — without the grownups getting annoyed by it.
B- (; )