Prayer Focus
Movie Review

COACH CARTER

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence, sexual content, language, teen partying and some drug material

Reviewed by: Shannon Hammell
CONTRIBUTOR

Average
Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Adults Teens
Genre:
Drama, Sports
Length:
2 hr. 14 min.
Year of Release:
2005
Featuring: Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Ri’chard, Rick Gonzalez, Ashanti, Adrienne Bailon
Director: Thomas Carter
Producer: David Gale, Brian Robbins, Michael Tollin
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Copyright, Paramount Pictures
Copyright, Paramount Pictures
Copyright, Paramount Pictures
Copyright, Paramount Pictures
Copyright, Paramount Pictures
Relevant Issues
Copyright, Paramount Pictures
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It begins on the street. It ends here.

Here’s what the distributor says about their film: “Inspired by true-life story of controversial high-school basketball coach Ken Carter, who received both high praise and staunch criticism when he made national news in 1999 for benching his entire undefeated basketball team for poor academic performance.”

Review

There are always movies that truly inspire us and touch the depths of our hearts, especially if they’re based on true stories. The typical underdog-sports-team stories are usually the ones that make us think about life’s challenges and what we can do to overcome them. “Coach Carter” is no different. The film takes place in an inner-city neighborhood in California , inhabited primarily by African-Americans. The high school basketball team of Richmond High School has won only four games the past season due to discipline issues and the troubled lives of the players. Richmond’s graduation record is only 50% and out of that 50%, only 6% go to college. Sex, drugs, and gangs plague the lives of the young high school kids and the high school has done nothing to encourage academic studies.

Ken Carter (Samuel L. Jackson), an owner of a sports equipment shop, decides to take up the position of coaching Richmond’s pathetic basketball team, hoping to inspire and discipline the troubled youths. In fact, he had attended Richmond High 30 years ago, setting several school records in passing and shooting. At first, the kids on the team are taken aback by Coach Carter’s strict discipline (the players have to sign a contract in order to stay on the team by wearing a shirt and tie on game day, sitting in the front of class, and maintaining a 2.3 GPA), however, they warm up to him and soon their team becomes undefeated in the league.

Still, the kids on the team have their troubles. Two of the star shooters, Kenyon (Rob Brown) and Sam (Jason Sweet), both have problems. Kenyon has trouble with his grades and Sam is in hot water with his girlfriend (who just got pregnant by him). Another kid, Timo Cruz (Rick Gonzalez) a.k.a “Cruz,” is involved in gang life and is seen carrying a 9 mm. shotgun in a couple of scenes. The only kid on the team who is well-rounded is Damien (Robert Ri’chard), Coach Carter’s son, who is an overachiever with a 3.5 G.P.A. Despite their new-found excellence on the basketball court, Coach Carter’s team still has trouble maintaining the 2.3 G.P.A mark. In order to keep his kids focused academically, he locks down the gym and cancels games and practices until the team keeps their grades up, much to the dismay of the general public and school officials.

The film is rated PG-13, but it is a little too risqué for the high school crowd. The sexual content is moderate but disconcerting. While cheerleaders for other high schools wear modest uniforms, the cheerleaders for Richmond High School look like street walkers, wearing spandex mid-driffs, short skirts, and leather knee-high boots. One of the high school students fools around with his girlfriend (they are both clothed). The basketball team is seen taking showers, wearing nothing but towels in the locker room. Teen-agers dance suggestively at a school-sponsored dance (think gyrating hips). The basketball team is invited to a party where they sit in a hot tub with girls all while under the influence of alcohol (the guys strip to their boxers and the girls strip to their bras and underwear). In the same scene, one teammate is seen from a balcony wearing nothing but a towel, indicating he may have slept with someone.

The violence is quite mild except for a gang shooting where Cruz’s cousin is shot. The violence is also moderate. We see a fake holdup by Cruz trying to play a joke on his teammates. Cruz’s cousin gets fatally wounded by a gang member. We also see someone breaking into Coach Carter’s sports equipment store by a gang. In fact, gang life permeates the livelihood of Cruz, a member of the Richmond basketball team (he is seen getting paid for his work in a gang).

There is a lot of cussing. The s-word is used quite frequently as well as G*D. Coach Carter chastises his charges for using the word “n*****,” saying it is disrespectful to their ancestors but has no problem using words like d*** and a**. One of the teammates (on meeting their new coach for the first time) asks Carter if he’s a preacher (in a disrespectful manner).

However, there are deep moral issues in the film. The sexual and violent content is not condoned in the movie. One teammate and his girlfriend talk about the responsibility of their actions as soon as she admits she’s pregnant (unfortunately she ends up aborting her child). Cruz witnesses the murder of his cousin and immediately wants out of gang life. After leaving twice he arrives on Coach Carter’s doorstep in the middle of the night (in tears from watching his cousin get shot), begging to be let back into the team. Carter immediately welcomes him with open arms. From this scene, I saw an allusion to the Prodigal Son parable where Jesus talks about how man strays away from God and once man realizes that he can’t make it on his own he comes to God. When Cruz chose a lifestyle of crime and realized that wasn’t what he wanted, he chose to suck up his pride and come back to his team and his coach. Another Biblical reference I saw in “Coach Carter” was the first time Cruz tried to join the team after quitting in the beginning. Coach Carter insisted that he do several hundred exercises in order to get back onto the team by Friday. Cruz fails but his teammates offer to do the rest for him.

We can try to work our way to Heaven but it is impossible to do so because of our sinful nature. However, Christ took the burden from us so that we may enter Heaven, like Cruz’s teammates offering to finish up his exercises so he could stay on the team. After discovering that his team went to a wild party, Carter wastes no time in chastising them for what they have done.

I loved this film. It touched my heart. I learned that goals in life that seem to be unattainable can really be reached. It teaches that if you want to succeed in life, you really can succeed if you put your mind to it. The objectionable content seemed to be condemned more than condoned, which is a good thing. The movie teaches that in life we will always have obstacles. It’s up to us to overcome them and be successful. I recommend this film, though I would suggest that parents go see it with their teen-age kids (yeah, I know it’s embarrassing to see a movie with your parents but bear with me on this) and afterward talk about what transpired and the lessons that can be learned. Oh, and bring a box of Kleenexes. You’ll may need them.

Violence: Moderate / Profanity: Moderate / Sex/Nudity: Moderate

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Positive—This movie is a true story about Coach Carter, a high school boy’s basketball coach from Richmond, California in the late ’90s. He takes over coaching at his high school alma mater where he was a basketball star and still holds many of the basketball records. The team he begins coaching is undisciplined both on and off the court. Many of the players live in crime filled and promiscuous situations. In order for the players to remain on the team they must sign a contract, which states that they need to maintain a 2.7 grade point average, attend and sit in the front row of their classes and wear a tie on game days. At practices, Coach Carter puts the team through vigorous conditioning including suicides and push-ups which stretch some of the players beyond their breaking point.

The team begins the season undefeated, but everything comes to a halt when Coach Carter becomes aware that some of his players are skipping and failing classes. He locks the gym, cancels a game and holds practices in the library. This lock-out doesn’t sit well with many of the parents, administrators and students but Coach Carter is unwavering. The lock-out is over-turned by the school board and in a touching moment the players tell Coach Carter that they won’t play until their grades are good enough, despite the lifting of the lock-out.

The movie ends with an emotional, nail-biting run for the state championship.

Coach Carter’s insistence that his players be respectful to one another, have a good work ethic on the court, and maintain good grades is inspirational. However, since this movie is based on a true story, it would have been short-sided not to include some of the poor choices made by the players off the court along with the consequences of these choices. These include drugs, sexual promiscuity, an unplanned pregnancy and even a murder.

Coach Carter, though a man of tremendous character, didn’t give any indication of having a relationship with Christ or encouraging his players to think or value anything involving eternal rewards. I walked away from the movie thinking that this was a good movie to watch loaded with valuable life lessons, but something major was missing. In my opinion, the missing piece was that even respectful, well-disciplined student athletes are living a life of vanity if they’re not living it for the Lord.

Even though the basketball is fun, because of some of the real life situations mentioned above, I wouldn’t recommend this movie for anyone under 14. I can also thankfully report that the movie was clear in including the consequences of poor choices. Violence: Mild / Profanity: Mild / Sex/Nudity: Minor.
My Ratings: Average/4
—Judy Aagard, age 47
Positive—I was inspired by this film. It was an amazing story that shows how Christ can reach in and save us if we are willing to follow what He asks of us. Coach Carter asked the team to follow rules simply for school and basketball that had an affect on their entire lives. Christ does that for us. If we obey His commands and follow His lead, our lives can and will be changed. Never be satisfied with what is, always look at what could be, in life and in people.
My Ratings: Average/4
—Kelli, age 25
Negative—From the moment I saw the trailer of “Coach Carter” I wanted to see the movie. A good movie shows characters who have few morals learning how important character is. It is inspiring to see those who are ashamed of their own lives, come to respect themselves and others as well. These are the major themes behind this film. The moviemakers did a fantastic job of illustrating the fundamental ideas of how we ought to relate to each other. I would have loved to watch this movie over and over.

There is one scene toward the end, however, that destroyed the movie for me. It involves a discussion that promotes abortion as a positive alternative to teen pregnancy. It seems the makers of the movie wanted to promote abortion, and put this scene in to do just that. It doesn’t add anything to the overall theme of the movie. In fact, it contradicts every other major idea espoused in “Coach Carter.” It was so blatant that two people at the showing I attended walked out.

Most of the movie I would have rated as “above average” and a “must see” film. Now, however, all I can think of is, “How would I rate this movie if even one teenage girl was influenced to abort her child?” As much as I enjoyed the majority of the movie, I won’t be returning to the theatre to watch it again. As a father of five, I know it isn’t always easy to raise children, and I don’t want to influence those around me with the idea that it’s okay to end a pregnancy for convenience.
My Ratings: Very Offensive/3½
—Bob Rossiter, age 44
Positive—My husband and I are both pastors and thought this to be a good film to use for teaching character values. Yes, there is some cussing, but the target group we serve would not be offended, it is real life. The movie was real life. We were impacted greatly. Coach Carter was a type of Christ, he dealt with the cause of failure, the sin of having a lack of knowledge and setting for the low road; He also set standards for himself and was a role model for them. Coach Carter empowered them to continue on in life in a positive matter. That is the Christian message for us. Coach Carter also addressed the sins of the educational system designed to foster failure, while protecting themselves politically and economically. Jesus walked with those he taught and minister too, so did Coach Carter.
My Ratings: Better than Average/5
—Rev. Linda P. Wheatley, age 53
Negative—My wife and I both were disappointed after watching this movie. The story was excellent with regards to the character building job coach Carter did, but there was a sub plot going on where one of the players gets his girlfriend pregnant. Throughout the movie the girl was going to keep the baby. Then out of nowhere she gets an abortion. The movie treated the abortion like it was no big deal. It just ruined the movie for us.
My Ratings: Very Offensive/3½
—Barry, age 41
Neutral—The movie deals with important issues like youth violence, sports competition, and teacher’s authority. Unfortunately, the film has a very predictable ending, yet is satisfying. The premise for the flick has been done many times before—coach turns a losing team into a winner but uses controversial methods and get tough antics. Overall, I recommend it for the lessons learned by the students—you must be committed and work hard to achieve success.
My Ratings: Average/3
—Mike Roxberry, age 40
Positive—I must agree with several of the other reviewers on this page. Overall, the film’s message is positive and I think the good messages out-weigh the bad. Nonetheless, the casual way the movie treated the issue of abortion was very disappointing to me. Basically, the girl decides that having a child would be inconvenient and, therefore, she aborts the child (without even consulting the father). Except for that one message, the film would have been quite good and uplifting (although it contains a fair amount of bad language and “booty shaking,” as well). I would not recommend bringing a child under sixteen to this movie.
My Ratings: Better than Average/4
—Andrew, age 44
Positive—I disagree with the view that this film promotes abortion. The scene where the young woman admits she has had one is a sad scene, where the audience feels disappointment in her choice. No adults counseled her to do this. This was an excellent film for older teens and their parents to view and then discuss together. Don’t send them alone. Go so you can talk about the poor choices made, about the consequences of pride, about the importance of standing up for what you think is important. Consider this an “inoculation” for when your kids really get out in the world. They’re going to hear and see a lot of this stuff. Talk about it now!
My Ratings: Average/4
—Kelly, age 40s
Positive—While the movie does not look down on abortion, it does not take it lightly. Some commenters have said that it was no big deal for her to abort the child, but if you paid attention you saw that she struggled with what to do for the entire film. It’s easy for many of us to condemn her without thinking about the situation she was in. I don’t support what she did, but it was not an easy decision for her.

As a movie, it was good. Very chessy (no missed shot was shown by Carter’s team), but well done on the scale it desired to be on. A lot of language, but like others have said realistic. You can do a whole lot worse at the movies right now.
My Ratings: Average/4
—Josiah Hager, age 21

Comments from young people
Neutral—I feel almost upset when I rate this movie because in the long run the message it is trying to send is a good one; however, other elements such as constant cursing and abortion lead me to think less highly of it. The movie is about a Coach trying to get a bunch of urban city teens to respect each other and put the most important things first, which really makes this a great movie, but as Christians the content I previously stated above will be found offensive, so you may want to rent this flick or stick to cleaner movies with nearly the same message, like “Remember the Titans.”
My Ratings: Very Offensive/3
—A.I., age 13
Positive—I loved this movie. Yeah, maybe they’re was some bad things in it; it still had a GREAT point to it! I thought that it was wonderful!!
My Ratings: Better than Average/4½
—Alayna, age 13
Positive—I think that Coach Carter is a good movie and because it is a true story, they probably wanted to keep the truth in the movie. my favorite person was the kid with the pony tail. I see so much of my cousins in him. I just want to help. The swearing is no different than what I hear at school everyday. About the abortion, it is based on a true story, plus it is a matter of belief. I believe it is not for us to judge but for us as young people (and Christians) to say how can we help other kids making that decision understand that there are other options. It is inspirational for me to see that anything is possible if you try hard. I do not have it hard, so I am already off to a good start.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 5
—rahsaan smith, age 11 (USA)
Movie Critics
…one of those rare films that aims at being heartwarming and inspirational, and succeeds…
—St. Louis Post-Dispatch
…The movie’s closing credits indicate that six of the team members did go on to college, five with scholarships. Lives, not games, were won.
—Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
…there’s one compelling reason to see Coach Carter, and his name is Samuel L. Jackson
—Rick Groen, The Globe and Mail
…Much of the pleasure of Coach Carter comes from watching the supremely confident Jackson… more an education film than it is a sports movie…
—Carrie Rickey, Philadelphia Inquirer
…There’s no denying that Carter’s hard-nosed stance was commendable, but in the hands of “Shall We Dance” director Thomas Carter (no relation), the inspirational tale becomes just another by-the-numbers, cliché-ridden sports film…
—Debra Birnbaum, New York Post
…a basketball film that teaches some valuable life lessons… “Coach Carter” gets the job done better than most…
—Terry Lawson, Detroit Free Press