Coach Carter

In my last review, I said that there had been a lot of good biopics lately. That’s not the only trend that’s been running through Hollywood, however. There have been three major major sports movies in the last year. Miracle, Friday Night Lights, and now Coach Carter. All three are true stories about coaches guiding teams through one big season of dealing with high expectations and learning about life at the same time. It’s an old formula and a good one. Miracle transcends it; Friday Night Lights subverts it; and Coach Carter embraces it.

Samuel L. Jackson holds the clipboard in this iteration, playing Ken Carter, a sporting goods store owner who takes over a local high school team in the rough town of Richmond, CA. There are some hard cases on the team, and the first thing Carter has to do is crack some heads and kick some behinds off the team. He insists that all the players get their academics together, a move challanged by the community who believe that being on the team will be all these boys will ever have. Coach Carter rejects this assumption.

This isn’t an ambitious film. It’s not going to get any Oscar nominations, nor will it be on a future ESPN top ten list of the greatest sports films of all time. It is an entertaining and inspirational story–Hoosiers for the hip-hop generation.

This is the sort of role that an actor like Samuel L. Jackson could phone in. It plays to his strengths–a disciplined man of authority who gets to make a lot of speeches. But Jackson is in the role one hundred percent of the time. You see his anger, which sometimes gets out of control, his despair and finally his pride. It’s a great performance that rises above the material.

The boys on the team do a good job in both parts of their roles, acting and playing basketball. The script is adequate and the direction a little flat. Some of the shots are a little uninteresting.

Incidently, Coach Carter fits in with several other trends. Along with Ray, Fat Albert, and probably others that I’m missing, Coach Carter is an indication that Hollywood is finally discovering that there is a market for mainstream black films.

It’s a realization that is long overdue.


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January 2005
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