Kenny Williams (James McDaniel) is a black teacher who leaves his home in Texas to take up a position teaching English at the Three Nations High School in the middle of a close knit Native American community in Utah. Kenny finds it extremely hard to fit in and be accepted with matters made even more complicated when he is talked into coaching the girl's basketball team who are a hapless bunch who have to play a nearby all-white high school team.
A teacher comes to town and faces an up hill battle to make a difference in the lives of stubborn students who don't want to learn. That sounds like the cliche which is at the centre of most classroom movies and when you strip "Edge of America" down to its basics we have that cliche. It is combined with another cliche about the High School basketball team which is only getting worse and needs turning around.
But whilst "Edge of America", which is inspired by a true story, has these recognizable elements it has some uniqueness which makes it stand out from the crowd. For one this is a movie which takes a look at the life of young Native Americans living on a reservation and combines it with Kenny, a black teacher, struggling to fit in. I wouldn't say that it is gritty when it comes to the fitting in side of things but it is blunt enough to make an impact. There is also a look at the young students who are full of attitude with a shadow hanging over them that study doesn't matter as there is no escaping the life ahead of them on the reservation. This different locale lifts the familiarity of these elements to make it interesting and fresh.
What also makes it fresh is the styling as it has an independent quality, unusual camera angles, long periods of silence, different music and actors who many will have no idea of who they are. It's strange because as I watched there were scenes which felt like they had been lifted from other similar movies, a contract signing scene reminded me of another basketball movie as did Kenny insisting one of the students get higher grades than needed. But the independent look and everything else keeps you on your toes and involved in this familiar story but in a fresh way.
What this all boils down to is that "Edge of America" is a familiar movie, it has familiar scenes to other sporting movies but the look at life of Native Americans combined with the independent look makes it a lot more interesting than you might expect.