As a lifelong Miami Dolphins fan, we have had to endure the Ricky Williams fiasco. While they were pleased with defeating Green Bay a few weeks ago, Minnesota Viking fans may have been embarrassed by the erratic behavior of Randy Moss. Thanks to a confluence of elements. With sub par educational standards and media glorification, athletic prodigies have grown into media monsters. “Coach Carter” is a biographical film that looks at this modern day phenomena of systemized tragedy.
Ken Carter (Samuel L. Jackson) was a basketball hero at Richmond High School. Now a small business owner, Carter is recruited to Coach a team of talented basketball players with poor academic standards. In fact, many of the students do not attend class, but they do attend basketball practice. Coach Carter enforces discipline and the high school team starts a winning streak.
Carter writes a contract for his team with the following stipulations; the students must maintain a 2.3 grade point average and wear ties on game days. While the basketball players make outward signs of improvement, their grades and academic goals are not achieved. Feeling that the players have not lived up to the letter of their agreement, Carter forfeits games despite an undefeated season. Carter’s actions run afoul of the school board who feels that the coach is being too tough on these poor students. The story makes national headlines and the clichés mount.
The story of “Coach Carter “ is an important one, but it is a tale that seems to reinvent itself every thirty years. This film reminded me of “Hoosiers” which starred Gene Hackman, Barbara Hershey and Dennis Hooper and was about small town Indiana basketball during the 1950’s. “Hoosiers” featured the same story elements as “Coach Carter.” The big difference between both movies is the actions of the students. While the boys in “Hoosiers” are busy confronting issues of finding a girl to kiss, the kids of Coach Carter’s generation must deal with issues of abortion and drive-by by shootings.
Unlike the glut of poorly directed action scenes in most modern sports movies, the basketball sequences are the highlight “Coach Carter.” The athletics are good and told within the frame of the film. Director Thomas Carter (no relation) does not lose sight of the human drama of good competition. By ignoring modern day camera techniques and flash cut editing, the Director allows the actors to tell their story.
“Coach Carter” works a Saturday Afternoon diversion. If it were not for the language (though appropriate) and too many lingering shots of sexy, but anonymous, cheerleaders, “Coach Carter”” would have made a fine family film. Sadly this film feels like a missed 3 pointer at the buzzer after double overtime.