a critiQal film review Coach Carter (2005)

Plot: Richmond High, CA has just gotten a new basketball coach: Coach Carter (Jackson). If you play on his team, though, you have to follow a few rules: wear a coat and tie on game day, sit in the front row of your classes (all of which you must attend), and you must maintain a 2.3 or higher GPA. Because, for Coach Carter, winning a basketball game is secondary - winning at the game of life is the main goal.

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  • ... reinforces the idea that anything you can dream for, you can have - but in such a down-to-earth way, you may actually believe it.

Samuel L. Jackson, aside from being the busiest actor in Hollywood today, is also one of the best. Everywhere you look, Mr. Jackson is there. For any role he takes on, he has the ability to start with almost nothing and turn it into greatness. So we were excited to see Coach Carter.

Want examples of Jackson’s solidly good performances? How about his bible-quoting gangster from Pulp Fiction (1994)? Or, the small-time P.I. in The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996) who, when thrown from a car, calmly lays where he’s landed in the middle of the road and lights a cigarette? Or, A Jedi Knight in Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002), holding his own with whoever comes his way? Frozone in The Incredibles (2004)? Sgt. Harrelson from S.W.A.T. (2003)? Reprising the classic title role in Shaft (2000) and making him cooler than ever before? The list just goes on and on. Whatever movie role he takes on, he creates something that keeps people talking.

So, when we found out that he was going to be taking on the role of a basketball coach in the new film Coach Carter, we knew we were going to have to check it out. Sure, it seemed like a Dangerous Minds-on-basketball type thing, but we knew that Mr. Jackson could make it something special.

Alas, with movies being so expensive these days (and so far no free reviewer tickets forthcoming at our local movie house – hint, hint), we had to wait until the DVD hit the streets before we were able to check it out for ourselves. So, would Samuel L. Jackson again be able to help create another memorable film with Coach Carter, or has he finally overworked himself and started to lose his edge?

Thankfully, Samuel L. Jackson continues his impressive performance record with another victory with Coach Carter. He’s right on the money as the head coach and title character of the film, bringing a depth and passion to the character that few other actors could do. His performance, as usual, is impressive on many levels, and really pulls the viewer into the film. His performance showcases how much he really believes in this character – and that belief spills over onto the viewer, making them believe in the character (and the team) almost as much as he does.

But he shouldn’t have to keep the viewer’s hooked by himself. Thankfully, Coach Carter doesn’t make him do it all by himself: he’s backed up by a lot of young talent who go the extra mile to keep the viewer deeply involved with the film.

When “based on a true story” or “inspired by a true story”, etc. hits the screen, it grabs the viewer’s attention right from the beginning. If the movie loses them after that, they have to be doing pretty badly. Most movies have to strive to get that first attention-grabber, whereas movies with that one line are given that from the outset. Coach Carter takes that first attention grabbing moment, and runs with it, bringing the viewer on an emotional ride through a high school basketball team’s ups and downs. It’s what Friday Night Lights (2004) wanted to be, but could never be: it’s a good high school sports film.

Sure, Coach Carter is a Hollywood film, so you get the slightly cheesy lines every now and again, and sure, it’s one-sided in it’s view of the situation that happened – but it’s not aiming to be a documentary. It manages to touch on a whole range of issues facing teens these days, from sex and it’s consequences to youth drinking to gang violence, but manages not to lose sight of the main storyline even once. Sure, some of these issues are very briefly touched on, and sometimes the movie doesn’t really take a stand for or against them – but they aren’t the main point of the film.

Coach Carter‘s biggest fault may be that it’s too single-minded in it’s purpose – it doesn’t care that some of the other issues that it brings up don’t get their due. That’s not that bad (since most movies these days need to have a bit more than just a general idea of which way they want to take their audience), but the question then arises: why put those issues in at all? Parental appeal? Trying to fit too much into one film? Who knows.

At it’s heart, Coach Carter is about a coach who believes he can make a difference in the lives of a group of highschoolers – and does. Samuel L. Jackson and the boys help this film achieve a higher level than most people would expect going in. Most people will probably walk in this film wanting to be entertained – which they will be. But they won’t count on the film being as inspirational as it is. Coach Carter reinforces the idea that anything you can dream for, you can have – but in such a down-to-earth way, you may actually believe it.

Rent or buy Coach Carter today – and let Mr. Jackson and the boys make a believer out of you too.

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