It’s not easy to do a sports movie right. The inspirational sports movie plot is predictable and overdone: a no-nonsense coach meets delinquent boys (or sometimes girls), the boys come to see coach as father figure, the school thinks coach is too strict, and the boys rally around the coach. Lives are changed, and the viewers go home with a warm, fuzzy feeling in their hearts. This plot series is touching and family-friendly, but it’s been beaten with a stick for the past few decades. So what makes Coach Carter different?
To be honest, not much. The MTV Films movie is based on the true story of Coach Ken Carter (Samuel L. Jackson) and it highlights the way he single-handedly transformed the Richmond Oliers high school basketball team from a team of good athletes to a group of stellar student athletes. He practices tough love on the court, but is even tougher outside the gym. Carter pushes the boys to get good grades, because he knows that the majority of high school basketball stars don’t actually make it to the pros. When he decides that the boys aren’t performing as well in the classroom as they are on the basketball court, he chains the gym closed and refuses to open it even when the principal (Denise Dowse) confronts him.
Nominated for a MTV Movie Award, People’s Choice Award, Teen Choice Award, and winner of the Black Movie Award in 2005, Coach Carter may be another typical sports movie, but it does have its shining moments. The tension between Carter’s coaching philosophy and the community’s desire to watch the boys succeed on the basketball court climaxes at a school board meeting, when Carter is put on trial. He tells the community that they are sending the wrong message to the boys. When he played basketball at Richmond High, some of his teammates went to jail and some even died on the streets. In a chilling scene that Jackson executes perfectly, he claims that he will quit if the school board ends the gym lockout.
Although Coach Carter is the typical feel-good sports movie, it’s one that transcends demographics. Coach Carter is perfect for a group of girlfriends, guy’s night out, a movie date, or even family night, and even the lukewarm sports fan is guaranteed to go home happy.