Tribeca Film Review: Kobe Doin' Work

A fascinating shooting style makes <i>Kobe Doin' Work</i> more than your typical sports film.

There have been a number of films about professional basketball made over the years, but none of them look quite like Kobe Doin' Work, Spike Lee's innovative and intense chronicle of one game in the life of NBA superstar Kobe Bryant. Modeled after the 2006 documentary Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait, which presented a single soccer match entirely from the perspective of the titular French footballer, Kobe Doin' Work puts viewers on the court alongside Bryant for roughly 60 of the film's 83 minutes, courtesy of the 30 cameras that capture his every dribble, pass and dunk, while a wireless body mic records his verbal game. Don't go into the movie expecting to learn anything about his home life; as the title implies, Lee's focus remains entirely on Bryant's day job as a shooting guard for the Los Angeles Lakers. In other words, you don't have to be a basketball fan to enjoy Kobe Doin' Work...but it doesn't hurt.

Thanks to the involvement of sports giant ESPN, which financed the film and will premiere it on their network on May 16 followed by a DVD release on May 19, this particular Spike Lee joint won't have any trouble reaching its target audience. It helps that Lee picked an especially juicy game to film, a crucial April 2008 match-up between the Lakers and the San Antonio Spurs that would help determine which of the top-ranked teams would win the Western Conference title. Meanwhile, Bryant himself was thick in the hunt for that year's MVP trophy, an honor he had never won despite his impressive career stats and three championship rings. If he's at all hung up about his chances, though, he doesn't let those feelings bubble to the surface on camera. Instead, Bryant keeps his mind entirely on his work. Throughout the game, he's heard offering advice and directions to his teammates, whether he's between plays or on the sidelines. And during halftime, he pores over game footage with Lakers coach Phil Jackson, plotting the best course of attack when the battle resumes.

It's worth pointing out that the film's stylistic conceit doesn't always mesh well with the sport itself. After all, basketball is a fast-paced game that emphasizes team play, so limiting the point-of-view to a single player can make it difficult for viewers (particularly basketball novices) to keep track of such basic information as which team has the ball or who just sunk a basket. But then, Lee isn't all that concerned with the details of this particular game; he's out to capture and preserve on film the skills of a great athlete in the prime of his career, and on that level he succeeds. Perhaps Kobe Doin' Work could launch a whole new franchise of first-person sports documentaries—anyone up for A-Rod Doin' Work or Eli Doin' Work?