Laura CliffordKen Carter (Samuel L. Jackson) is a successful local businessman in Richmond, California and past star of the town’s high school basketball team. Now, the losing-record Richmond High Oilers have only past glories to remember until Carter agrees to coach the ailing team. He sets a few contractual ground rules for his new wards – maintain a 2.3 GPA, attend every class and sit in front and wear a jacket and tie on game day – and they seem on the road to victory. That is, until they breach their contract and the coach shuts down the program in the middle of a winning season, much to the chagrin of the town fathers and the boys’ parents, in “Coach Carter.”
Inspirational-figure films, mostly biopics and mostly, it seems, sports oriented, have been done to near death over the years but that does not mean that they are bad or boring. “Radio (2003),” with Cuba Gooding Jr. in the title role and Ed Harris as the handicapped young man’s mentor and protector, was very well done but not well received, manly due to the overt sentimentality. “Coach Carter,” by helmer Thomas Carter (no relation), is a forthright story of a man who believed in the power of an education and lived by that belief. It eschews the sentimental in favor of the hardheaded practicality of the title character, Ken Carter.
Coach Carter contracts his Oilers to meet his standards, set much more stringently than their school requires, and each player must sign up and agree to meet these requirements. The team clicks on the boards and begins to chock up some impressive wins, all the while with Coach instilling teamwork on levels both athletic and scholastic. When six of the boys fail to make the grades coach requires, in the middle of an undefeated season, Carter places the responsibility on the whole team and, on 4 January 1999, chains the doors to the gym. Outraged, the citizenry of Richmond threaten violence if Ken does not relent from his rigid stand.
Coach Carter” benefits on several levels. The story, inspired by the real life doings of Ken Carter, is pretty remarkable and scripters Mark Schwahn and John Gatins capture the earnest resolve and righteous dedication that leads the man to drastic ends to make his point. While the parents of the players see the boys’ basketball prowess as their ticket out of the recession-ridden town, Carter sees that an education is the real way out and stands by his contract. And, the players stand by their coach.
Samuel L. Jackson is perfect in the role as a man of ability and vision who takes the lives of his players, his wards, as a serious responsibility. Ken Carter rose out of the quagmire of Richmond High by perseverance and the desire to get an education. He wants to instill this desire into his players’ hearts and minds and, legally, contracts them to his exacting standard. Jackson, as expected, gives a fully dimensioned performance and reps one of the best perfs of the New Year.
The young men cast as the Oilers’ players is a handsomely done mix of veteran youngsters like Rob Brown (“Finding Forrester,” holding himself well opposite Sean Connery) and newcomers like pop singer Ashanti, as his teen-pregnant girlfriend. Rick Gonzalez (“The Rookie”), as rebellious, drug-culture-influenced Timo Cruz puts an effective arc on his perf as the young, know-it-all tough who, because of tragedy, sees that his coach is right about many things, not just basketball. Gonzalez gives an emotionally full perf. Robert Ri’chard, as Carter’s son Damien, does a solid job showing his father his worthiness to be one of his players. The rest of the players do an impressive job with their physically demanding roles.
Techs are first rate throughout with Sharone Meir’s lensing capturing the game action effectively and with excitement.
The press material declared how the search for the young players included the criteria that they be able to play the game. The capable cast does all the right moves, making the basketball sequences exciting and realistic, with Ken Carter’s tactics and strategies apparent. The combination of believable ball play, solid performances and hard-nosed inspiration make for worthwhile entertainment during this post-holiday season. I give it a B.
Laura gives "Coach Carter" a B.
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