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Inspired by the true story of controversial Richmond, California basketball coach Ken Carter, who received both high praise and staunch criticism when he made national news for benching his entire team undefeated team for poor academic performance. Tension mounted as the Richmond High Oilers faced the upcoming basketball championship. The town was wild with excitement over their undefeated team and the bleachers were filled with cheering fans for every game. No one could imagine that on January 4, 1999 the community would erupt in dissention and so many lives would change forever when coach Carter padlocked the gym, refusing the players access for failing to keep up their grades.
For more about Coach Carter and the Coach Carter Blu-ray release, see Coach Carter Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on April 18, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Director: Thomas Carter
Writers: John Gatins, Mark Schwahn
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Ri'chard, Rob Brown (VI), Ashanti, Debbi Morgan, Antwon Tanner
» See full cast & crew
Coach Carter Blu-ray Review
So little time, so many clichés.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, April 18, 2010
The world loves an underdog, that can't be argued with Witness this year's NCAA Tournament, which saw one unlikely upset after another and had both Cornell and Butler fans (of all people) whipped up into a frenzy of team spirit. That same love for the come from behind stick-to-itiveness force of character has inhabited countless sports films for generations, from Ronald Reagan's star making turn in Knute Rockne to more recent fare like Rudy and Hoosiers. The detriment to such a well worn genre is that the audience comes into these films knowing what they're going to get, and they are rarely if ever surprised, and whether or not they're disappointed is more a product of their personal tolerance for "been there, seen that" than any inherent quality in the films themselves. There's no denying the inspirational value of many of these outings, as patently manufactured as it may be. There's also no denying the almost by the numbers, rote-filled screenplays with which most of these films erect their stories. It's at least partially to Coach Carter's credit, then, that there is actually a modicum of emotional impact from this trite and true (sorry) story of a hardscrabble coach teaching an inner city basketball team the meaning of teamwork, personal responsibility and the importance of an education.
Samuel L. Jackson portrays Coach Ken Carter, a successful businessman who had set several records playing high school hoops in inner city Richmond, California. With the current day team awash in disrespect and boorish, even illegal, behavior, the powers that be coax Carter to return to his old alma mater to try to whip the team into shape. Of course, you know to a large degree what's coming next. Carter is tough, but has a heart of gold. The boys initially give him various rafts of fecal material, but ultimately come to respect the man, not only for his knowledge of and prowess in their game of choice, but also, more importantly, as a man and mentor in life. Carter in fact doesn't focus exclusively on the game itself, but actually insists that a high school education is what these student athletes should really be aiming for. Carter's attempts to instill discipline in the rowdy youngsters, including having them sign contracts indicating their responsibilities as both athletes and students, ruffles quite a few parental feathers, strangely, but ultimately people start to see the slow but steady changes in their kids, though not without a major hiccup or two along the way.
Coach Carter is certainly cliché ridden, that can't be denied. We have a variety of hardscrabble kids, some at least coming from dysfunctional families. Carter's there as surrogate parent, offering at least some semblance of stability. What helps the film rise above the mire of this particular genre are a couple of nice subplots, including Carter's own private school educated son deciding to come aboard the inner city high school train, perhaps to his father's chagrin, as well as a refusal to tie everything up with the expected come from behind victory in the closing moments of the climactic game. Jackson also evinces a believable, if at times patently stereotypical, character who is part cop, part coach, and part father figure.
Despite these faltering attempts, however, Coach Carter is by and large a victim of met expectations. The kids screw up, the kids see the error of their ways, the kids reform. Carter manages to mold the wayward youths into decent young men who play exceptional ball. The school isn't particularly supportive. You've seen it all before, perhaps not better, but Carter gives us nothing significantly new or unexpected enough to ever really reach out and touch us. In fact even with some very well staged game segments, a lot of this film is emotionally turgid, playing at the same monotonous level for most of its running time.
Jackson has made some odd career choices in his long film life. Coach Carter seems to be in that same middling category that a lot of Jackson's portrayals have tended to be in. His presence at least partially elevates the film with a certain gravitas, but the film itself is so squarely stuck in its own genre that it never peeks its head out to look around and give us a larger context. That would have been particularly interesting in this case, where some insight into the generational issues of dysfunction in this region may have helped bring more of a human element to what is such a pat, tried and true story.
As it is, Coach Carter is a film most audiences can coast through with little bother and equally little attachment. It's pleasant, moving enough at times to at least engage a baseline level of interest, but it never fulfills its grander ambitions. There may be something at least slightly more than just air here, but not by much.
Coach Carter Blu-ray, Video Quality
Coach Carter arrived fairly early in the Blu-ray era with a decent looking AVC encoded image in full 1080p in a 2.39:1 aspect ratio. This is a film that exults in drab browns and beiges a lot of the time, so don't expect eye popping color. In fact a lot of the film is gritty and dark, as befits its inner city setting. While sharpness is certainly well above SD DVD levels, I was a bit disappointed with low contrast here, which gives the film a sort of murky inchoate quality, especially in some of the dimly lit interior scenes. Colors, while certainly not forming a hugely disparate palette, are lifelike and well balanced. The low contrast gives at least the appearance of some crushing in the blacks (especially in a night time party scene). Grain isn't overly noticeable, but the film has a decent texture and depth. All in all, this is a solid, if not overwhelmingly strong, transfer that should at least meet the expectations of most people interested in the title.
Coach Carter Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Audiophiles may be surprised at how sonically tame Coach Carter's lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix is, at least for the bulk of the picture. That can't really be blamed on the reproduction, but on the track itself, which stems from the film's more modest ambitions as an intimate drama with sports elements, rather than vice versa. Therefore, expect a lot of one on one dialogue firmly anchored to the front channels, all of which is perfectly heard and reproduced with absolute clarity. There are efforts at directionality even in these moments, especially in some of the many scenes in the high school gymnasium. The surround channels really only kick in, as perhaps might be expected, in the game sequences, and we then get at least a modicum of immersion, as the roar of the crowd erupts from the rear channels while the grunts and groans of the players ping pong to and fro between the channels as they make their way across the floor. This is not a bombastic track by any means, even in the game sequences, but it services this "kinder, gentler" sports film rather well. While there really doesn't seem to be a lot of low end on this track, simply toggle between the TrueHD track and the standard Dolby 5.1 track and you'll immediately notice the upgrade, even with the relatively meager source elements with which it's working.
Coach Carter Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Some above average SD supplements augment the main feature. They include:
Coach Carter: The Man Behind the Movie (19:41) offers interviews with and information about the real Coach Carter.
Fast Break at Richmond High (11:40) details the choreography needed to film the game sequences.
Coach Carter: Making the Cut (18:22) is standard EPK making of fare.
Writing Coach Carter: A Two Man Game (8:25) features interviews with scenarist Mark Schwahn, who had to work closely with the real Carter to get to the heart of the story.
Also on tap are six deleted scenes totaling a little over twelve minutes, a Hope Music Video (4:26) and the theatrical trailer.
Coach Carter Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Coach Carter, like the man himself, has its heart in the right place. Unfortunately, there's simply too strong a frankly stereotypical tradition in sports film from which this iteration never breaks free. It's certainly worth an evening's rental just for Jackson's performance, but this is one game you'll probably forget about shortly after having seen it.
Coach Carter: Other Editions
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• Coach Carter Gets Blu-ray Specs - October 7, 2008
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