Coach Carter Review

“We’re talking fundamentals here”

Of course, Samuel L. Jackson is in character as the eponymous Ken Carter when he spouts these lines, yet they could easily apply to the film itself. Coach Carter is yet another ‘achievement against the odds’ sports movie, this one with basketball at its centre. Indeed, such is its familiarity that any scene could be taken out of its context and still be fully understood by the least cinematically savvy of audiences: this is the scene where the coach demands respect; this is the scene where the team scores and decides the game in the closing seconds, etc. etc. etc. It’s the kind of situation which makes for great snippets on a Film 2005-style programme – after viewing only a few random seconds any potential audience will know exactly what to expect – but sadly (and no doubt executives will bemoan the fact) there has to be an end result beyond the actual promotion.

In this case it’s a lachrymose true story taking inspiration from the real life Coach Carter. A high school basketball champ during the seventies, he returned to the court later in life to inspire an undisciplined bunch of mostly ethic minorities in order to teach them self-respect and to aim for a fully life. In the 21st century (the film gives no impression of being set in the recent past) this means college despite being at a low-performance high school and an alternative to premature fatherhood, gang violence and drug culture.

Being based on a true story it is understandably impossible not to consider its approach to realism. And just as Remember the Titans (a Disney-fied look at racism and American football) was overtly, and unashamedly, glossy, so too Coach Carter is strictly Hollywood material. Indeed, the whole affair is slick in the extreme and relentlessly upbeat. When the dangers of the modern world do rear their heads it would appear to be solely as a means of providing more positive outcomes: one of the team members sees a friend shot in front of them, yet this only encourages him to try harder (and succeed, of course) in his education; another’s girlfriend has an abortion without him knowing, yet it ultimately brings them closer together. And elsewhere things are even less tricky: Jackson teaches a certain defensive move just in time for it to be integral to the next match, whilst his son, a politer, more educated breed than most of his team mates, overcomes their dislike with a single dazzling display of athleticism.

Disappointingly, this glossy tone prevails over all and even Jackson becomes affected. He speaks in soundbites tailor made for inclusion in trailers and TV spots, and is continually slick in the face of all forms of adversity. That said, he does lend the role a certain gravitas. Indeed, much like Gene Hackman in Hoosiers, aka Best Shot, he is able to capitalise on the screen persona he’s carefully cultivated through his seemingly non-stop workload of the past decade or so and simply provide the necessary sense of authority through presence alone. Admittedly, he is less smug here than in the self-styled badass roles he’s been taking on since Pulp Fiction (Shaft, The 51st State, etc.), which is no doubt welcome, but it’s a lightweight performance nonetheless despite its proficiency.

Then again, should we really be surprised by this? After all, Coach Carter is a film which deals solely in averages. Every development is guided by formulas so as to be wholly predictable. Every scene is calculated so as to offend the least number of people. And if a film does deal solely in averages, then how can it expect to be anything more than simply average?

The Disc

Coach Carter comes to Region 2 DVD with the fine presentation you’d expect from such a new release. The original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 is presented anamorphically utilising a flawless print which is transferred without technical flaw. Indeed, the glossy, richly coloured photography looks absolutely superb and the level of detail is commendably. Much the same is also true of the soundtrack courtesy of a DD5.1 mix which ably handles the music, dialogue and on-court action with no discernible problems. Admittedly it can seem a little subdued at times (the “rousing” score is surprisingly low in the mix), but then this is wholly the result of the film itself and not the disc’s production.

As for extras Coach Carter comes accompanied by two featurettes, twelve minutes worth of deleted/extended scenes and a music video from Twista. The latter is pretty much as you would expect, though the other pieces are deserving of a little more attention even if they’re far from perfect. The first featurette focuses on the real Coach Carter yet has the frustrating habit of illustrating his various memories from the past with the exact same thing happening in a snippet from the movie. Thus he’ll mention how he said a certain thing, at which point we’ll cut to Samuel L. Jackson spouting the exact same line. The end result is ultimately frustrating and more than a little patronising.

The second featurette is more agreeable and focuses on the recreation of the various basketball games. Here we learn of the training camp the cast went through and their exercise routines as well as the ways in which the filmmakers choreograph the matches. As such we also get an insight into the use of animatics and the like, all of which is dealt with in a brisk, effective manner over its brief 20-minute duration.

Similarly swift are the collection of deleted/extended scenes. Having an average length of two minutes apiece, these snippets are understandably slight and were no doubt trimmed as a means of keeping Coach Carter’s duration down (though 130 minutes is still a long haul for this type of picture).

As with the main feature, all extras – excluding the music video – come with a selection of optional subtitles (see sidebar).

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