There is a suggestion that the change has something to do with Sunday conquering his alcoholism, or his reconciliation with his understandably fed-up wife (Charlize Theron, third-billed for what is little more than a cameo), but the opening scene makes it clear that, in fact, the change predates those events. We are left to conclude that, although Sunday is utterly unmoved by Brashear's first three or four exhibitions of selfless heroism, something about the fourth or fifth one suddenly breaks down his lifelong attitude of racist contempt. (The scenes of heroism are brilliantly handled, filled with excruciating, nail-biting tension.)
There's no question that Brashear's story, even as filtered through the necessary distortions of filmmaking, is extraordinary and inspiring. Nor should Tillman be denied credit for constructing a spirit-rousing tale. What with Gooding's nobility, Mark Isham's on-the-nose score (which resembles the main theme from Jurassic Park) and De Niro's transformation, you'd have to be quite the hard-hearted cynic to totally resist the film's inspirational sledgehammer.