out of Five
Running time: 137
Enjoyable, well made drama that manages to avoid some of the usual clichÃ©s and features a terrific performance from Samuel L. Jackson.
Coach Carter is "inspired by" the true story of high school coach Ken Carter, who made headlines by benching his entire undefeated basketball team for poor academic performance in 1999. A modest hit in the States, the film is directed by Thomas Carter, who made the sleeper hit Save The Last Dance and is no relation to the Coach of the same name.
New Coach Brings New Draconian Rules
Samuel L. Jackson plays Ken Carter, an ex-high school basketball player and sports store owner who is asked to coach the high school basketball team in Richmond, California. After accepting the (unpaid) position, he immediately stamps his no-nonsense brand of leadership on the team by making them all sign contracts, agreeing to attend all their classes and maintain decent grade point averages.
Under Carter's inspirational guidance, the team goes on to win every one of their games and the community rallies behind them. However, when Carter finds out that some of his players have reneged on their contracts, he locks up the school gym and bans them from both playing and practising. This angers both the parents and the school officials, but Carter refuses to back down...
In addition, there are various sub-plots involving some of the players, including Kenyon Stone (Rob Brown), who has to choose between his future and his pregnant girlfriend (R&B singer Ashanti in her screen debut) and Timo Cruz (Rick Gonzalez), a rebellious teenager whose initial dismissal from the team leads to him hanging out with the local gang members.
Jackson is excellent as Carter, downplaying his usual exuberance and giving a genuine, heartfelt performance. He is, of course, born to shout things at teenagers on basketball courts and he delivers all the time-honoured usual speeches with his customary brilliance. He's ably assisted by a strong support cast, particularly Gonzalez and Brown, but also Robert Ri'chard as his son, Damien (who drops out of an exclusive school to play on his dad's team) and Denise Dowse as the school principal.
Not Flawless But Worthwhile Viewing
Although the film embraces the usual clichÃ©s associated with this kind of movie (the Dead Poets Society "O Captain, My Captain" Moment is present and correct, for example), it manages to avoid some of the more obvious ones: for example, in the gang member subplot, someone does get shot, but it's not the person you expect and also there's no emotional father/son conflict or issues of any kind.
Finally, Coach Carter is to be commended for including a responsible storyline in which a girl gets an abortion and nothing bad happens to her; in Bush's America, a pro-abortion statement is practically an act of subversion.
The film isn't quite without flaws. For one thing it's too long, largely because several of the games (and we see way too many of them) have slow-motion sequences that go on for ages. Similarly, there are at least three scenes where Jackson delivers a speech and then someone yells, "That's BULLSHIT!" and storms off the court, so the film does start to feel repetitive at times.
That said, the film has some worthwhile things to say about the value of education and is definitely worth seeing for Jackson's performance. Recommended.