Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Samuel L. Jackson, John Heard, Kelly Rowan,
Clifton Gonzalez Gonzalez
Director: Kevin Reynolds
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Widescreen 1.85:1 Anamorphic Transfer
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: Audio Commentary, Theatrical Trailer
Length: 119 Minutes
Release Date: February 15, 2000
187 is the police code for
a homicide, but by the time the film that bears its name ends, you cant help but
wonder what the number for suicide is. This
film starts as powerfully promising as anything Ive ever seen, vividly recreating
for the screen the nightmare that is the lives of teachers in our modern public school
system, serving as both a testament and a plea on their behalf. But it sadly loses faith in itself somewhere
closer to the end, taking away not only the movies power and momentum, but stripping
it of any moral center it might have achieved along the way.
Samuel L. Jackson is brilliant as Trevor Garfield, a good teacher who
seems to be struggling to hold onto his ideals as he constantly faces classes of rude,
obnoxious kids who dont want to be bothered, and a school system that is not interested in protecting their own. In the opening New York segment, he discovers a
students textbook with 187 and Garfield scribbled all
through it. He immediately takes it to the
principal, who dismisses not only the evidence, but Garfields notion that the
kids actually pay attention to him. On
his way back from the meeting, Garfield is attacked by that same student, stabbed
repeatedly by a ten penny nail.
Flash forward 15 months, and Garfield now serves as an on call
substitute in Los Angeles. The climate has
changed, but the situations are the same. Only
now, theres something different about the man.
Hes a little shell shocked. Gone
is his confidence, replaced by fear and rage. And
once the students become threatening again, even stealing his watch, he finds once more
that the system itself is also shell shocked
not from dangerous students, but from
groups like the ACLU who threaten lawsuits at every turn.
Administrators are afraid to perform even a simple locker searchnever mind if
someone ends up dead in the process.
The film, and Jacksons carefully controlled performance,
suggest one inevitable outcome. If teachers
are threatened by the students, and the system turns a blind eye, sooner or later, the
teacher will start fighting back. This is no
film like The Principal, which took great
pleasure in demonstrating that violence could be used to reach the kids. Violence doesnt solve anything, and this
movie doesnt pretend that it does. It
merely shows it as a purely reactionary response. In
many ways, I kept thinking this picture represented the dark side of Stand and Deliver.
Here, theres no false pretense, no hope that sooner or later, Garfield
will break through with these kids, and theyll end their violent gangster ways and
start to make something of themselves, redeeming both the students and the teacher alike. Stand may
have optimistically demonstrated what could happen under the right set of circumstances,
but today, it sadly seems the results end up more akin to 187.
It is a grim, gripping tale that makes its case powerfully, up until
the last stretch of film. Then, somewhere
along the way, it loses confidence, and steers itself towards a cheaply manufactured
conclusion that kills the overall message of the film.
Its a climax that displaces the films moral center in such a way,
youre left wondering what exactly youre supposed to walk away with.
Its a shame, because everything about the film up until that
point was right. It was dramatic and potent,
and unabashedly real. It was a real
eye-opener, and certainly didnt need any artificial stimulants in the end. What the movie sacrificed in order to be more
formidable was far too much, and immediately reduced its stature from a great film to a
Still, there is much to like about the film, particularly as
mentioned, Jacksons shining work. Hes
one of a handful of performers for whom Ill watch a movie simply for the pleasure of
seeing them act. John Heard and Kelly Rowan
are both good in supporting roles as his colleagues, and newcomer Clifton Gonzalez
Gonzalez brings a sharp edginess to his role as Cesar, the kind that lets you know fairly
early on that theres not going to be a moment along the way where you end up liking
This is a terrific anamorphic transfer from Warner (full frame also optional). Color schemes are well defined and purposeful, as the early New York scenes have a cool, blue look to them, and the later California scenes are saturated with bright, hot colors. Images are sharp and clear throughout, with only one or two instances of noticeable grain in the darkest scenes.
The 5.1 soundtrack mostly comes alive with the bits of music, but it
will lull you into a false sense of security before coming alive and grabbing your
attention again. Still, apart from a few crowd scenes, there's not much use of the
The disc contains a trailer and a rather good commentary track,
featuring director Reynolds, writer Scott Yagemann, and stars Jackson and Gonzalez
187 could have been great it had all the necessary ingredients going for it but it opted for something a little less substantial and less thought provoking in the end. As the film points out in the end credits, roughly one out of every nine teachers in this country has been attacked sometime in their career, and as such, they definitely deserved the bold voice the picture began with, and not the timid one it uses to finish.