Coach Carter [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Paramount Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Jeremiah Chin (23rd February 2009).
The Film

Even though I tend to be a bit harder on movies that just follow formula, I have to admit a serious soft spot for basketball movies. While some excel and explore some interesting issues, like Spike Lee’s “He Got Game” (1998), others hold a special place in my childhood like “Space Jam” (1996) or even “The Sixth Man” (1997) which almost get funnier as I get older, at least just for the memories (plus, as I write this I’m realizing how great the mid to late 90’s were for basketball movies). Of course sometimes formulas crossover, lately it’s been a trendy crossover for the basketball movie to intersect with the coaching/teaching movie based on a true story. Though you loose some creativity when you try to just follow two formulas at once, it can be nice to see when films just acknowledge what they are and try to execute, as is the case with “Coach Carter” (2005).

Samuel L. Jackson stars as the titular Ken Carter, an alumnus of a Richmond, California high school whose basketball team over the last year has been unsuccessful and a little out of control. After a pre-season lost to the more famous St. Francis, Carter is asked to come in and coach the team to try and turn things around for the struggling, inner-city school. On the first day of practice, Coach Carter lays some unpopular ground rules, asking all of his players to sign a commitment to academic excellence as well as a more serious commitment to their team. After losing the leading scorers from the last year, Carter begins to turn the team around with his demanding physical emphasis, bringing the team back to the winning traditions of when he was a player for the school. Soon the team is winning again, undefeated until Carter finds out that the majority of the team is failing in their schoolwork. Against the complaints of some of the community and school administration, Carter cancels practice and locks the team out of the gym until their grades are back at a higher academic level.

Just out of the synopsis for the movie, you can smell the dual formulas at play; the Cinderella story of a team turning from failure to success along with the hardnosed yet caring teacher who pushes his students to success. And for the most part these both work well; you see where the stories are going, but the writing is good enough to keep you along for the ride. There’s the sentimental speech to rally the team or the tough lecture to get these kids interested in their schoolwork again. Though they work well for the movie, they don’t particularly stand out in the larger scheme of either the basketball or the coach/teacher stories. Similarly, the directing doesn’t particularly rise above, though Thomas Carter (no relation to the real Ken Carter) has some flashes of excellence in directing some of the basketball games in the film with some cool highlight-reel style shots.

At the same time, the acting rises to about the same level of the writing and directing in that it hits all the right marks but won’t shock you with how good it is. Jackson pulls off a fine performance as the tough, yet caring, coach who values his students, but isn’t afraid to lay the verbal smackdown if necessary. From the team, each character basically fills out their role on the team and in the film, though again no one really blows you away. There are some interesting side stories that they get to act in, but sometimes there’s a brief whiff of cheesiness as the film tries to flesh out the players with drama and emotionality. It’s understandable to want to have well-rounded characters in the film, but when you’re jumping between stories on a basketball team it gets almost comical when some of the extras playing benchwarmers pop up in the team speech sections of the movie that make you wonder, what are they doing on the team?

Overall, “Coach Carter” is a good enough basketball/coaching movie that shows off some of Jackson’s acting chops, but doesn’t really rise above the standards for the genre. The story itself is interesting and there are some good moments that have a great general message to promote student athletes rather than just ball players. This may be one of the films that doesn’t need to go beyond the formula to be a nice story, but to really stand out it has a bit further to go.

Video

Presented in 1080p 24/fps HD at a 2.35:1 aspect ratio with AVC MPEG-4 encoding, the film itself looks good in high definition, with quality colors and lighting that suit the tone of the film. For the most part the transfer is really crisp and clear, though there’s the occasional scene that feels too grainy; overall it’s a good looking transfer.

Audio

There are tracks in English Dolby TrueHD 5.1, French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 surround, the TrueHD track comes through cleanly with no problems in the transfer. The levels for the plain dialogue scenes and the basketball scenes are consistent and the sound does a fairly good job of moving around and comes through especially well in the on-court scenes.
There’s also optional English, English for the hearing impaired, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles.

Extras

The disc comes equipped with a healthy supply of extras including 4 featurettes, 6 deleted scenes, a music video and a theatrical trailer (though amazingly no start-up trailers or bonus trailers).

First is “Coach Carter: The Man Behind the Movie” which runs for 19 minutes and 41 seconds. The featurette mostly focuses on interviews with Ken Carter, Samuel L. Jackson and some of Carter’s students and players on his actual 1999 team. It’s an interesting look at the actual situation, showing the school in Richmond as well as the actual students and Coach as well as clips featuring the characters that were based on these people. Amazingly the featurette even talks with Carters family, specifically his sisters, who he credits as a big influence on him. A high quality featurette that goes into the full story behind the film with some great interviews.

“Fast Break at Richmond High” runs for 11 minutes and 40 seconds and this featurette talks with the cast and crew of the film about the choreographing of the film, from training the actors to make the plays and shots seen in the film. The crew and the trainers do a great job talking about putting together these scenes from the training of the actors to the camp that he put together for all of the extras and lead actors, as well as seeing all of the behind-the-scenes shots of how they orchestrated the basketball scenes, including some of the bloopers of blown dunks or missed passes. Maybe the most interesting part was the 3D models they put together to become interactive storyboards to test and get the angles that they wanted on the film.

Next is “Writing ‘Coach Carter’: The Two Man Game” which runs 8 minutes and 25 seconds. Just as it sounds, the featurette is mostly about the actual writing of the film, the interaction between the writers and Coach Carter. I appreciate how the film is realistic about the liberties it’s taken with the real life story, including conversation with some of the real-life people that the film is based on and their comments on the differences between the film and reality.

The final featurette is “Coach Carter: Making the Cut” which runs for 18 minutes and 22 seconds and deals more with the directing of the film by Thomas Carter, as well as the casting of the film dealing with the similarities and differences between characters, especially the similarities between Carter and Jackson. A nice featurette that does a good job of covering a lot of the behind-the-scenes work, and providing some more time for the actors and people involed with the film to talk about everything.

Next are the 6 deleted scenes:

- “Damien Wants to Celebrate with the Team” runs for 1 minute and 24 seconds. Damien wants to go out and celebrate with the team, though it’s past 9 o’clock and Carter is worried about his son’s safety.
- “Worm Jokes with Coach” runs for 1 minute and 52 seconds where Worm makes a crack at Carter’s momma, and has to run as a penalty.
- “The Team Checks Out Mansions” runs for 2 minutes and 27 seconds. During one of their runs through an affluent neighborhood, the team looks at all the mansions while they take a breather.
- “Kenyon at Part with Berkeley Girl” runs for 59 seconds. Kenyon looks at all the awards in one of the rooms of the rich kids party and talks with a girl about colleges.
- “Coach with the Team in the Library” runs for 2 minutes and 16 seconds, where Carter lectures his players on the importance of an education and getting better grades despite being good athletes.
- “The Team Welcomes Cruz Back/Kyra Breaks up with Kenyon” runs for 3 minutes and 10 seconds. Here Cruz returns to join their team for study in the library during the lockout, and after they leave Kyra breaks up with Kenyon.

The music video for “Hope” by Twista featuring Faith Evans runs for 4 minutes and 26 seconds, using scenes and actors from the film.

Finally the theatrical trailer runs for 2 minutes and 32 seconds.

Overall

The Film: C+ Video: A- Audio: A Extras: B+ Overall: B-

 


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