Reviewed by: Shannon Hammell
2 hr. 14 min.
Year of Release:
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.”
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