Coach Carter Review
is based on the true-life story of Ken Carter who returned to his old High School to help a struggling basketball team return to former glory. Upon arriving he’s faced with more than just tough-luck attitude and bedraggled, uninspired players, as the harsh exterior of their lives off the court, over-zealous parents and an uncooperative school board play on his battle to turn the basketball team around. However, the battle is one which Carter wants to take on but his penchant for strong discipline, academic achievement and respect doesn’t go down too well with his players at first. Carter’s story rose to that of national interest because when first taking the job he made his players and their parents sign a contract that stipulated certain achievements that had to be continually met in order to continue playing, one of which was academic grades. Halfway through the season, having made the Richmond High School team an undefeated machine, he locks them out of the gym and cancels all games because some of the player’s grades were not high enough to play. Under immense pressure from the school board, parents, the community of Richmond, and the media, Carter is stuck between the values he believes in and the dreams of those that need him.
When watching Coach Carter I was continually reminded of Boaz Yakin’s brilliant Remember The Titans - probably due to them both being based on true stories, both involving race relations in America, and both coming from the same emotionally charged, inspirational, rags to riches stable of the sports story genre. The two films have one important aspect in common, that being the African-American head coach – in Remember The Titans it was Denzel Washington on Oscar-worthy form, and here it’s Samuel L. Jackson. Where the two films differ (the obvious being one is based on American football, the other basketball) is in their sub-plots, and it is here where Yakin’s film made all the right ‘plays’. Coach Carter unfortunately struggles when it takes its players off the court – the plot involving a player’s girlfriend’s pregnancy falls flat while a gang land war feels a little clichéd. This is where Jackson comes in, holding the film together with a superb performance as the title character. You know he’s doing a good job when every time he’s off screen the film drags and seems to stop dead. What prevents Coach Carter from being a great sports movie is in its lack of depth brought on by weak and superficial sub-plots, but what prevents it from being a bad one is the fact the film simply sizzles with heated, often sweaty, passion each time Jackson adorns the screen and the basketball sequences are in full flow.
Certainly director Carter’s ability to make the training scenes and basketball sequences enthralling is nothing short of on the money. Quickly paced, fast-moving cameras and prolonged takes that show the game being played rather than quick edits between actors who can’t play the sport are utilised with low-angle shots and the sounds of a packed stadium cheering the team on - Carter keeps the viewer gripped to the screen and most importantly gripped to the game. It is perhaps the limitations of the script that cause Carter to go off track as the narrative focus of the film becomes clouded, and it’s certainly a credit to Jackson that when he is called upon within a sub-plot such as his struggles with the school board, and when one of his player’s comes to him after his cousin is killed, that the film is as enthralling as the basketball games. Additionally, Carter is blessed by some solid performances from his cast of players such as Ken Carter’s son played by Robert Ri’chard and academic struggler but great basketball player Junior Battle played by Nana Gbewonyo. The standout though, has to be Rick Gonzalez whose troubles with drugs off-court make him into a team misfit, his differences with coach Carter obvious, his dream of succeeding even more so. One of the most memorable scenes involves a running ploy by Carter to motivate his players with the words: ‘What is your deepest fear?’. As the team has to prepare for one last big game, Gonzalez’s Timo Cruz stands up and tells Carter that ‘you once asked us what is our deepest fear’ to which he replies with a recitation of a Marianne Williamson poem – it’s certainly one of the film’s most heartfelt moments.
never reaches the heights of such basketball gems as Hoosiers and Hoop Dreams, but it happily matches up against something like White Men Can’t Jump. Its sub-plots drag a little, and the film could have been cut down to a sub-two hour running time, but the basketball scenes are excellent and Samuel L. Jackson is on top form. As ‘inspirational’ Hollywood cinema made by MTV for the MTV generation, it may be watered down and hardly unique, but it pushes all the right buttons.
The film is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and anamorphic enhanced. The image is superb throughout displaying a great-looking picture that is sharp, detailed and full of vibrant depth. There is largely nothing notably wrong with the image quality apart from some very slight edge-enhancement that is almost unnoticeable and as you’d expect, the print used is in immaculate condition.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is also excellent with dialogue clear and plenty of bass support that really brings the sound to life. The basketball scenes are well-supplied with plenty of directional sound flowing throughout the soundstage.
Coach Carter: The Man Behind The Movie
- This twenty minute featurette is quite good actually, focusing on the man behind Samuel L. Jackson’s character. The real life Ken Carter is interviewed along with some of his family and some of the players that played for him, and this makes for an enjoyable and highly informative watch.
Fast Break At Richmond High - This featurette is pretty much a mini making-of that looks at how the actors prepared for their roles. It contains interviews with many of the principle production staff and actors.
Deleted Scenes - Six deleted scenes are provided on the DVD, each mastered with anamorphic 2.35:1 picture and Dolby Digital 5.1 sound.
Music Video and Preview trailers - The music video ‘Hope’ by Twista featuring Faith Evans is included on the DVD, along with trailers for the remake of the The Bad News Bears, The Longest Yard: Lockdown Edition DVD, Laguna Beach: The Complete First Season DVD, and Sahara.
Sports movie fans and basketball fans will certainly draw something from this light but endearing adaptation of an inspirational true story. It isn’t unique and it has its flaws but it is an enjoyable film, released here on a high quality DVD with some solid, if limited, additional features.