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January 2005

By Wilson Morales

Coach Carter

Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Director: Thomas Carter
Producers: Brian Robbins, Mike Tollin & David Gale
Screenwriters: Mark Schwahn & John Gatkins, inspired by the life of Ken Carter
Director of Photography: Sharone Meir
Composer: Trevor Rabin
Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Rob Brown, Robert Ri'chard, Rick Gonzalez, Ashanti, Nana Gbewonyo, Antwon Tanner, Channing Tatum, Debbie Morgan, & Texas Battle




In looking at the commercial for this film, you may have said to yourself that you've seen this type of film before. If so, then you are correct. From "Stand and Deliver" to "Lean on Me" and others, films about individuals trying to teach the value of education to students is an old genre. You can predict where the film is going from the moment the lead star appears. It's like playing a football game and you have the opponent's playbook and all of the moves are known. But at the same time, these types of films are the equivalent of watching many Shakespeare productions. We know where the story is going, but it's the performances that we care about. In "Coach Carter", the performances by the cast are appealing enough that it overshadows the clichéd story.

Inspired by the life of Coach Ken Carter, Samuel L. Carter plays the coach with a tough-as-nails approach; as should he. Set in the late 1990s and in California, Carter becomes the basketball coach of his former high school, Richmond High, where he excelled on the team when he was. The team he now coaches has had dismal seasons for years and he's here to bring the team and school to new heights. Part of his approach is to get his team to believe in something and that's education and discipline. Some of the kids on the team come from single parent families and the kids and have to hustle and get by on their own for financial support. Ken's son, Damien (Ri'chard), has always played basketball under his father's guidance and transfers from a prestigious school to be on Richmond's team. The first day of practice is a day of reckoning for some players who are not used to being coach by a tough person; and Cruz (Gonzalez) takes his street mentality to challenge Coach Carter, which proves useless. Kenyon (Brown) is a good kid and really believes that if the team starts winning, he could be looked upon for an academic scholarship for college. This doesn't go well with his girlfriend Kyra (Ashanti), who might be expecting, and put his future in a tailspin. To achieve success is to have goals, and Coach Carter has each player sign a contract stating that they will attain a 2.3 GPA in class in order to play. Everything is going good when the team starts winning and the spirits are high everywhere within the school, until the grade reports come in with unsatisfactorily results. Not only does Coach Carter stops the team from playing, but he has also locked the doors to the gym, forcing the school and the community to challenge him and his authority.

The story is on cruise control in terms of the genre, one can tell where the film is headed, but it's the performances by the cast that draws you in. Jackson is commanding and engaging as the coach. His performance embodies the role that every coach of any sports should take. Everyone of the cast has their moment to shine on camera. Rick Gonzalez is the one standout within the film. Being Latino, sporting an afro and having been in several films, Gonzalez has never a role where he was crucial to the film. He gives his best performance thus far and shows a range that can go places as an actor. In her debut as an actor, singer Ashanti is tolerable as the girlfriend of one of the players. Director Thomas Carter should be credited for not exploiting her off-screen talents and giving her a bigger role than need be. Ashanti still needs more work to prove herself in this business, but this is a good start. It's been some time since Rob Brown did "Finding Forrester" and taking the time to hone his acting skills has proven useful. Debbie Morgan is a fine actress and she and Jackson worked together in "Eve's Bayoo", but in this film, her skills are wasted. Anyone could have played her role as the wife. There was nothing there but the conventional wife support you see in these male dominated sports films. Antwon Tanner probably did his scenes on remote since he played a similar role in "Sunset Park" years ago. Nevertheless, he had more to do here and it was refreshing. The rest of the cast were splendid. The heart of the film, as with all of the types of "education" film, is the message that the film wants you to walk away with. Behind the commercial, the attraction and the actors in the film, the message is still about education and "Coach Carter" succeeds in letting you know how important it is to have it, no matter what you do.