In 1999, sports store owner Ken Carter, played by Samuel L. Jackson, took over as basketball coach at Richmond High School in California. He led the team with strength, taught the young men discipline with dignity and made them champions. But the team had to sign contracts to attend class, sit in the front of the class and keep up their GPA’s. When they failed to keep their end of the bargain, Carter cancelled games and locked the gym. Not once, but until the school board called off the lock out.
It is only natural that audiences will compare this film to David Anspaugh’s 1986 basketball classic, Hoosiers, starring Gene Hackman as Coach Norman Dale. Both films are based on true stories. The human issues are the same in many ways, though the Richmond team is economically and socially challenged in ways the country “Hoosiers” would never have been. The team members are certainly the victims of an educational system that considers students losers from the outset – a message the film makes sure to articulate. The geography is different, times have changed and not necessarily improved. It is also easy to compare the coaches, both men of integrity.
Coach Carter is a watchable film that promotes character and the value of an education. It is inspirational, if a little too long. Samuel L. Jackson inhabits his character with conviction. I also liked Robert Ri’chard who played Carter’s son, Damien.
On a personal note, I’ll take a basketball film any day over one about football and boxing.
Coach Carter is directed by Thomas Carter who also directed Save the Last Dance – one of my favorite films. MTV produced both these films – as it did Napoleon Dynamite, The Fighting Temptations - and others that are not quite on the same level. But these films make me pay attention to the pro-social stories that MTV can tell, and tell in an entertaining and thought-provoking way. Let’s hope they keep up this good work.