To call “Coach Carter” a sports movie is not just a misnomer, it simply denies the essence of the film. It is like calling “Citizen Kane” a biopic. Basketball is merely the veneer that this movie uses to attract attention of potential viewers. The real story within “Coach Carter” is a passionate warning against both apathy and the acceptance of failure. In the age of glorifying the inner-city ghetto, the movie presents Carter as a beacon of light to the community.
“Coach Carter” follows an urban, high school basketball team that not only loses games, but also loses focus on life. The audience is introduced to these athletes in a state of emotional and social disarray. Enter Ken Carter (Samuel L. Jackson), a tough-love saint who uses a combination of military-school training and lively anecdotes to transform the teenagers into a winning team.
There was never really a doubt that Carter, with his intense glare and steady voice, could imbue a sense of responsibility and prudence into his squad. What is surprising is how easily these quasi-gangsters yielded to Carter’s rash demands. Carter’s team, at his command, carry out seemingly impossible tasks, such as “1,000 suicides” and “2,500 pushups,” without much physical effort being shown. These scenes come off as unrealistic and dull without the actors portraying emotion or phsyical strain into these physically strenuous activities. The only conflicts we see between Carter and the players is drawn-out stares that offer little more than what is shown on the screen.
In his second major film, Robert Brown (“Finding Forrester”) again portrays a troubled, inner-city basketball player. This time though, his role is not as vital. With the talent he exhibits in “Forrester,” Brown lowers himself by playing Kenyon Stone, a virtuous young player whose girlfriend (Ashanti) struggles over the dilemma of raising a child. It is a weary message that is sent out to inner-city teenagers and single-mothers.
Samuel L. Jackson is believable as Ken Carter because of his commanding on-screen demeanor, and he saves the film from a weak and vague plotline. Though many actors can play the character of a noble demigod, Jackson communicates not just inspiration and character, but triumph. From the moment his character graces the screen to fight the urban oppression of minority youths, Jackson commands an air of respect and pride that radiates from him on the screen. Victory was his before a single game was played and a single word was said.
“Coach Carter” is a successful film in what it set out to accomplish. Though the impact of this movie will be minimal on mainstream ideals and opinions about inner-city communities, it is a well intentioned first step toward social awareness.
Rating: 3/5 stars