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Big Smooth

average rating is 4 out of 5


Patrick Foley


Posted on:

Mar 18, 2023

Film Reviews
Big Smooth
Directed by:
Paul Stainthorpe
Written by:
Paul Stainthorpe
Neil Fingleton, Ian Whyte, Jenny Platt

The life and story of high school basketball sensation, Game of Thrones actor and Britain’s tallest man Neil Fingleton is lovingly told in Big Smooth, a documentary feature from director Paul Stainthorpe that, like its giant subject, really stands out in a crowd whilst maintaining a down to earth and humble connection to the things in life that really matter.


At 7-foot, 7-inches tall, Neil Fingleton’s life was one unlike almost anyone else’s on the planet. The documentary follows his unassuming beginnings in Durham, to attending high school and college in America on a basketball scholarship, to starring in Hollywood films and esteemed TV series upon retirement. His friends and family paint an endearing and moving picture of a man who maintained an impossible normality in extraordinary circumstances.


There is a genuine warmth and care that exudes from Big Smooth. Considering Neil Fingleton’s height gave him a unique life filled with both challenges and advantages, it is to director Paul Stainthorpe’s immense credit that the personality, character and dreams of the man are as engaging as the exceptional conditions he is faced with due to his physical attributes. The story of a young boy from Durham finding his way in the alien world of US high school basketball is a fascinating story regardless of height, and the love and admiration with which the documentary’s interviewees - including Neil’s family in the UK, his guardians and friends in the USA, and his teammates and colleagues in the basketball and acting world – are similarly testament to a remarkable story of a man many viewers will be unfamiliar with.


The film is considerate and contemplative when it considers Fingleton’s size – painting a picture of a boy and a man with an attribute most would consider to be a huge advantage in life, and deconstructing beliefs many may take about living life as a ‘giant’. The film does not shy away from evidencing Neil’s advantages on the court, but also details the challenges of his size – including those that meant his career may have been cut shorter sooner than players much smaller than him would have to contend with. Considering both the filmmakers’ and the interviewees’ clear admiration for Fingleton, the balance and honesty with which these are addressed makes for an authentic and convincing account of his story.


The film isn’t perfect and can occasionally drop its narrative and focus in favour of the anecdotes – which whilst consistently funny and interesting can cause the viewer to lose sense of the linear story approach the director takes. It can appear that certain footage of Fingleton’s basketball career is recycled a number of times as well which has the unintended effect of undermining his accomplishments and ability raised by contemporaries by suggesting there was little else that can be evidenced beyond the shown clips.


But these rough edges never take away from the film’s ultimate themes, message or intent – which is to do justice to Neil Fingleton’s remarkable story with honesty and integrity, and show that a person’s character leaves more a lasting impression on those they love than any physical quality. There’s an obvious temptation to end this review with a terrible pun about ‘reaching new heights’ or ‘towering over competition’ – but for a film that is about Neil Fingleton’s height as equally as it is NOT about it, the dad jokes have to take a back seat. Let’s just say that Big Smooth is a brilliant documentary and fine example of how to capture the essence of a life – whether it is a remarkable one or not.

About the Film Critic
Patrick Foley
Patrick Foley
Theatrical Release, Digital / DVD Release, Documentary
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