Film Review: Long Shot: The Kevin Laue Story

Cornball adjectives like “inspiring” and “uplifting” are for once entirely accurate in describing this engaging documentary.

There are inspiring stories everywhere, and then there’s the story of Kevin Laue, the one-armed basketball player featured in Long Shot. Laue was impaired while still in the womb, when his umbilical cord wrapped around his neck. Using his arm as a shield, he fought back, but due to a lack of circulation, he emerged with an arm ending just below his elbow. Kevin’s late father encouraged his son’s participation in sports, with exhilarating results, as the kid effortlessly sails across the court, sinking shots and skillfully handling defense.

Director Franklin Martin has crafted a wonderfully intimate portrait of Laue, who emerges as an ingratiating, highly normal guy, despite the extreme challenges he has always faced. It’s appalling to hear of him bullied for his condition in his early school years—you wonder what kind of heartlessly insensitive kids are being raised these days. Even without a left hand, he is still left-handed, making his athletic achievement even more of a triumph. He eventually grew to be 6’9”, but remains haunted by his troubled relationship with his father, which was unresolved at his death. Nothing stops Laue, however—not this, or naysaying athletic coaches, or even his own heartbreaking failures on the court. His skills earn him media attention, a full page in Sports Illustrated’s Super Bowl issue, and even an eventual meeting with President Bush.

At his darkest moment, when the odds against him ever attaining a sports scholarship seem to be insurmountable, Laue leaves his aptly named home in Pleasanton, California, and enrolls in the Fork Union military academy. The rules and regulations there prove more stifling than anything he’s ever experienced (farting on the bus is severely punished), and he considers going AWOL. Out of the blue, a sudden trip to New York City seems to offer some hope.

Martin’s interviews with Laue’s family, especially a wonderfully crusty grandma and his appealing, no-nonsense mother, and his various school coaches and advisors are exceedingly well-handled and blessedly non-manipulative. That last adjective encapsulates the tone of the film, which avoids anything smacking of sentimentality or sanctimoniousness. You need to see nothing more than Laue in breathtaking jock action to know what the human spirit can truly accomplish.