Starring: Samuel L. Jackson and Rob Brown
Director: Thomas Carter
BACK in 1989, Morgan Freeman appeared in the film, Lean on Me, the true story of a school principal in a tough neighbourhood who imposed discipline (with the help of a threatening cudgel) in a no-nonsense manner and improved the standards in his school.
Perhaps the real Ken Carter, on whose career as a basketball coach the film Coach Carter is based, saw Lean on Me.
He doesn’t wield any implement but he is in the strong disciplinary tradition.
His ‘weapon’ is respect. He demands that his players call him ‘Sir’ and he calls them ‘Sir’. He demands absolute punctuality, infringements leading to running and push-ups.
He also demands a contract whereby the players will maintain an agreed average in their studies (guaranteed by teachers’ reports).
Gradually, he builds up a team in Richmond, on the outskirts of San Francisco which plays together and wins.
On the personal interactions, the build up is more gradual, the students (mainly African American but not exclusively) have home problems, relationship problems and academic problems.
The situation comes to a head when the students fail to honour the contract with their studies and Coach Carter imposes a lock-out, to the anger of the parents and the school board.
The climax is not quite what you expect, but it is based on faith in the goodness and fairness of human nature.
This actually happened in 1999.
The film is in the tradition of the American coach movies (think Denzel Washington in Remember the Titans).
The sport is basketball and there are plenty of matches to delight fans plus some coaching tips and strategies.
This is Samuel L. Jackson’s film and he is completely convincing as Ken Carter, a principled man and former school champion, good husband, stern father (not prone to use the word ‘love’ at all) but fair, courageous in sticking to his guns despite animosity from critics, yet aware of the needs of his students.
It is more interesting and enjoyable than one might have anticipated and will appeal to those who think that a tough line in discipline is more effective than being nice. To Sir with basketball.