The Great Debaters: Good Story, Not-So-Great Film Even in a movie as formulaic as The Great Debaters, Denzel Washington manages to create a character who keeps us guessing. The truth-based tale of a debate team at a small Southern black college in 1935 borrows familiar elements from both underdog sports movies and inspirational teacher movies, but Washington's portrayal of the complicated debate coach is anything but clichéd.
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