Dunk or Die

February 25th, 2022




AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 2 ½ STARS (Out of 4)

Last weekend was the NBA all-star game which is always preceded the day before by the historic Dunk Contest. But judging by how you view the contest of emphatic and inventive slams, it was not entirely up to the level of what audiences have known the event to be. It’s sad too, because the likes of Michael Jordan or Vince Carter have made them incredibly memorable, humans flying in the sky and impressing fans with their unquestionable talents. In the new documentary- Dunk or Die, director Nicolas de Virieu captures a collective group of French athletes, growing up in the 80’s and becoming international dunking stars in the 90’s, in a revealing documentation of how the athletic skill of dunking saved their lives. Dunk or Die is a merging point of sport saving the lives of others, in a documentary that repeats itself too much, but still lands a memorable impact.

For some, the slam dunk is arguably one of the most exciting things in sports, but for Kadour Ziani, dunking became a way out of his neighborhood. Ziani lives in Saint-Dizier, France, a more run down part of the country, where a life of crime or drugs tends to follow people living there. That’s where it begins, with Ziani doing his best to stay out of trouble, but ultimately succumbing to the environment of his life, where stealing things or selling drugs were a more instant result. That was until with countless hours of practice, running, jumping, and finally slamming a basketball into a hoop, was Ziani able to find his new passion- dunking- and dunking in wild, gravity defying new ways.

As far as documentaries go, Dunk or Die has a mix of the good and bad that come with the genre. The good: this is a story I never knew anything about, had no idea there could be a collection of athletes that made a career just out of the act of dunking. On top of that part, this is a story of men who survived because of learning how to dunk. Director Nicolas de Virieu tells their story in an interesting and authentic fashion, all shot in black & white, showing the backstory of their neighborhood, and the alternative between choosing crime, or making a life of dunking. The bad: the standard talking head narrative feels distant for the audience, interviewing people connected to Ziani, and his fellow teammates. Many of these people end up feeling similar to one another. Which is also a product of Dunk or Die’s repetitive nature. After a while the dunks all blend together and an argument can be made that Dunk or Die would work better as a documentary short than a feature.

One of the revealing factors about Dunk or Die is that it shines a light on the impressive acts that perform during NBA halftime shows. The majority of the middle section focuses on the traveling troupe of dunkers, where during the 90’s they went from historic stadiums like Madison Square Garden to the United Center, impressing the world with their unmatchable skills. Sadly, the action begins to blend together, and by the time we get to the end, Dunk or Die has already shown us the best of the bunch.

On a narrative level, Dunk or Die is a story that deserves to be told, revealing the true power of sports, which we rarely see today. It’s not what could be called a great documentary, but it has just enough entertainment, a strong human interest story that can inspire anyone, proving that humans can fly to new heights, through the power of leaping into air, and landing with a slam. I could never dunk a basketball and if Dunk or Die succeeds at one thing, it reminded me that those who can are certainly better because of it.



Written by: Leo Brady

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