Coach Carter


Directed by: Thomas Carter
Written by:Mark Schwahn, John Gatins
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Rob Brown, Robert Ri’chard, Rick Gonzalez, Nana Gbewonyo, Antwon Tanner
Released: May 26, 2005
Grade: B-

The message in Coach Carter is pretty blunt.  There’s no sugar-coating or subtlety whatsoever.  It’s also a message we’ve seen before.  If you’ve seen any American high-school sporting flick (e.g. Friday Night Lights), you’ll know what I mean.

Ken Carter (Jackson) came to Richmond High School in 1999 to coach the basketball team.  The previous season had been a disaster for the Richmond Oilers having won just 4 of 28 games.  On day one of practice, Carter made all his players sign a contract.  This contract required them to always be on time, attend all classes, keep an academic grade point average of 2.3 and wear a shirt and tie on game day.

This didn’t sit well with the team at first but the results soon spoke for themselves.  Richmond won their first 16 games of the 2004 season.  Unfortunately for Coach Carter, the results weren’t the same in the classroom.  Many of the team were failing at least one subject and it was time to take action.

What happened next made headlines in America and is the inspiration for this film.  Coach Carter locked the gym and refused to let the team play until their grades were back on track.  The team would forfeit two matches as a result and parents wanted Carter’s head on a platter.

Carter though, would not relent.  He was determined to have his players honour their contracts.  He wanted a winning team but more importantly, he wanted to make a difference in the lives of these boys.  He wanted to provide a future.

Coach Carter is long and predictable.  Two months ago I saw a similarly themed film (albeit about football) called Friday Night Lights.  I compared the two films and found Lights to be superior.  It has greater suspense, better direction and most importantly, more interesting characters.  This for me was the biggest flaw in Carter – I didn’t care for this cast of stereotypes.

I wonder if they’ll ever make a film which is the reverse of these inspirational sporting flicks?  What about a film where a team is on top of the ladder, has a new coach arrive, and then they slump to bottom and start taking it out on each other.  I’d pay to see that over Coach Carter.

As a footnote, I have to remark at the similarity of the performance of the Richmond Oilers versus this year’s performance of the AFL’s Richmond Tigers.  Last year’s Tigers also won just 4 matches.  Is this an omen for Richmond in 2005 who have already won 7 of 10 matches?  Probably not.