Coach Carter (6/10)

by Tony Medley

This could just as easily been entitled “Hoosiers (1986) in the Hood,” except for the fact that the primary point it makes, which is about life and the relative importance of sports vis-à-vis education, is more important than the point in “Hoosiers.”  Ken Carter (Samuel L. Jackson), who played and set all their records 15 years before, accepts a $1,000 stipend to become basketball coach at Richman High School, of a team that won only four games the prior year. On his first day he requires his players to sign a contract pursuant to which they, among other things, agree to maintain a 2.3 GPA, will attend class every day, sit in the front row, and wear a coat and tie on game day. This causes lots of problems as Carter is an unyielding man. It really blows up as the team becomes successful but Carter wants his players to live up to the contract. Everyone turns against him. This part of the film is an inspiring journey, especially considering it’s based on fact.

Enter Producer MTV and its B story, a love story between a player, Kenyon Stone (Rob Brown), and Kyra (Ashanti, who is described by MTV as a “singing sensation”). I thought this was one of the best films of the year while watching the basketball/Carter portion. Jackson is very good as the committed coach and his players are believable. But at the end, MTV’s secular agenda greatly diminished my enthusiasm, and that’s a shame because it detracted from a laudable premise.

Throughout the film Kyra is pregnant. I didn’t like the fact that two black high school students had conceived an out of wedlock baby and that they just took it matter of factly. But what really got my goat was when Kyra kills the baby by having an abortion with absolutely no emotion whatever. She didn’t undergo any trauma and Kenyon didn’t seem to care. It was treated as it had about the same importance as if she just went to have a splinter removed. All Kenyon cared about was that he wasn’t there to be with her. Not to worry, says Kyra, my father went with me. Oh, OK. Of course, the fact that she terminated a healthy life that will never be didn’t seem to bother her or Kenyon, or, I guess, her father.

Teenage pregnancies and the resulting single parent families are epidemic among black teenagers and this film will be seen mostly in black neighborhoods. It’s an outrage that out of wedlock pregnancy and abortion are treated with such callous indifference by MTV. But, then, MTV is the outlet that promotes rap music that glorifies the brutalization of women.

This is a morally schizophrenic film. On the one hand it proclaims the good values that an education is more important than sport, and that young people must make commitments and live up to them. On the other hand it puts forth a scurrilous moral viewpoint with respect to sex, accepting as the natural course of things that teenagers can have sex without responsibility while in high school and that abortion is a painless solution to an unplanned pregnancy.

The producers trumpet the fact that Mark Ellis of Reel Sports, who also did the casting for “Miracle” last year, cast this movie. Ellis says that all the players chosen had to have played high school basketball and been All Conference and/or All Star Players. This is artfully worded, however, and I don’t believe that that included the lead characters.

This feeling is buttressed by the manipulative camera work. There were so many tight shots that you really can’t see much basketball. It looked almost like TNT, who constantly cuts to the low camera behind the basket on fast breaks so you can’t see anybody but the sole player cutting for the basket. An under the basket camera is used on a majority of the scenes of actual basketball games in this film and it’s not only boring, it demeans the quality of the basketball. That’s why I don’t think that the actors are really basketball players. If they were, we’d see them playing in wide shots where we could really see the athleticism of the actors. We see only very few wide shots. Instead what we get are mostly dizzying quick cuts from close up to close up, so you can’t really see people actually playing basketball. What you do see is very short individual moves. It reminded me of the “dancing” in “Chicago” (2002). For me, it was very disappointing, considering the talent they claimed.

Another fault I found with the film is technical. I’ve played a lot of basketball. I’ve never heard a referee say, “UCLA Ball out.” Or “USC ball out.” It’s “White out,” or “red out.” They make their calls by the color of the uniform. But in this film whenever the refs make a call they often call out the name of the team, “Richman out.” This seemed unprofessional, unless the game has changed in the two decades since I played.

The Samuel L. Jackson part of the film is so good that I would have given this at least an 8 had it not been for the manipulative camera work that doesn’t show real basketball, the calm acceptance of the out of wedlock pregnancy in black high school students, and the shameless promotion of abortion.

January 12, 2005

The End