Coach Carter (2005)
Boyz N the Hoop
What's your deepest fear? - Coach Ken Carter
Through out "Coach Carter" Ken Carter asks Timo Cruz "What's your deepest fear?", the answer comes towards the end of the movie as after an emotional journey Timo responds with "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure". There is more to the quote than just that but the basis of what Timo says is that we shouldn't hide are talents we should show them off and by doing so inspire others to do the same. In many ways that sums up "Coach carter" quite nicely because whilst we have a true story this is a movie about being inspired, about the young men of the basketball team being inspired to do their best, to them inspiring others through their actions.
But all this inspiration does come from the true story of Coach Ken Carter who caused an uproar when having made agreements with all his players that they must achieve a certain level of academic achievement to play they failed and so he benched the entire winning team. What drove Carter to make such a decision a decision which made the national news? It wasn't about them achieving academic greatness but instilling a belief in each and every one of them that they don't have to settle for what they got but can work for something better.
That is the true story which inspirational basketball movie "Coach Carter" is based upon and whether you watch it as just yet another sports movie or for its inspirational tale there is no denying it is pretty decent. Although being cynical you could say that it's also pretty unoriginal as it deals with a new teacher entering the fray and inspiring a group of kids with bleak futures and no motivation to rise from their situation, which let's be honest has been covered in numerous movies such as "Dangerous Minds" before.
The good news is that director Thomas Carter, no relation to Coach Ken Carter, knows what he is doing and manages to make a pretty formulaic storyline feel interesting. It also probably helps that Ken Carter and his son Damien, who is also pivotal to the storyline, were on board to help with the production which I am sure helped in stopping it drifting too far away from the truth. This is demonstrated that although the ending features a series of subtitles which tell you what happened to each of the young men the actual climax doesn't resort to going down the completely predictable and unbelievable route of many sports movies.
One of the most charming aspects of "Coach Carter" is it feels honest. When Timo Cruz rebels against Carter's new regime and takes to working the streets for his cousin, it doesn't feel out of place it feels believable that Cruz would rebel after having it easy. The same can be said of the dialogue which has more than its fair share of profanities and locker room banter but it is what I would expect from this sort of high school sports movie and never does it feel wrong or contrived. In contrast to the colourful language you have Ken Carter and his son Damien who through hard work and determination have a decent life and this can be seen in their general demeanour and the way they speak. But again it doesn't feel wrong, especially when you understand that Ken Carter demands respect but gives respect when it's deserved.
As with many inspirational sports movies "Coach Carter" does follow a well worn path and in this case we get the initial rebellion from the players as they try to show coach who's boss, this is followed by the gradual bonding of the team as they get to understand that there is no "I" in "Team" plus in this case Timo Cruz the one extra rebellious player who quits only to realise that he is missing out on something special. But it doesn't really matter as Thomas Carter stops it feeling completely generic by pacing the action and the unravelling storyline perfectly.
What is surprising is that the actual basketball scenes are impressive and are extremely well choreographed. But again Thomas Carter has weaved his magic to make them feel honest to the extent that not only is it apparent that the young stars of "Coach Carter" are in fact playing the games which we see but also that their talents on the court are not over the top. One of the things which for me spoil many sports based movies is the excessive editing which is employed to disguise who is actually participating in the sports action, but here it is obvious that this wasn't needed and so makes it feel more believable.
With the role of Coach Ken Carter being quite a big role it is no surprise that Samuel L. Jackson was picked as he has a certain air about him and provides a certain amount of gravitas when ever he appears in a movie. I would imagine his characterisation of Ken is pretty accurate and he certainly displays the characteristics of a man who demands respect but will award respect where justified. Jackson really makes a difference to "Coach Carter" as his screen presence provides the power that the character demands.
The team of young actors who play various members of the team are equally as good as Jackson and continue on the theme of being natural. None of them looked out of place or like a thirty year old masquerading as a high school kid as often is the case in high school movies. I suppose you could be critical and say that they were to generically stereotypical such as Antwon Tanner as Worm being too cocky but then what do you expect, the movie is about a high school basketball team and so will have characters which are generally seen in similar high school / sports movies.
The stand out performance from these young actors comes from Rick Gonzalez who plays Timo Cruz the player who quits because he didn't like Coach Carter's new regime. The character of Timo Cruz is probably the one which is the least generic and several parts of the movie focuses on his slow realisation and emotional battle that what Ken Carter offers is away out of the street and away from the likelihood of being dead before your thirtieth birthday.
What this all boils down to is that although "Coach Carter" is pretty stereotypical of this type of movie, director Thomas Carter makes the whole thing feel interesting. Yes you will be left cheering as the team bond and no doubt be willing them to win as well as feeling inspired by the ending, but you will have also felt like you have watched a movie which is slightly different to your normal sporting movies. The few flaws in "Coach Carter" are significantly out weighed by all that is good and despite being surprisingly long at 136 min does not feel dragged out or cumbersome for a single moment.
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