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COACH CARTER
Blu-ray Edition

Film review by Gordon Justesen
Technical specs by Michael Jacobson

Stars: Samuel L. Jackson, Rob Brown, Robert Ri’chard, Rick Gonzalez, Ashanti
Director: Thomas Carter
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Paramount
Features: See Review
Length: 136 Minutes
Release Date: December 16, 2008

“What is your deepest fear?”

“Our deepest fear is not that we’re inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”

Film ***

It seems that sports movies that are based on true events make for the most effective of the genre. Films like Hoosiers and, even more recently, Friday Night Lights, have demonstrated the ultimate power and realism of the struggle for championship glory. Now comes Coach Carter, a fact-based basketball drama that is a bit different from the traditional high school sports movie.

The film is inspired by the life of Coach Ken Carter, a man who went to extreme lengths to see that his team not only succeeds on the basketball court, but also in the classroom. In 1999, Carter made headlines resulting from his decision to forfeit several basketball games, due to his players not making the good grades they had promised to achieve when they had signed a contract with the Coach at the beginning of the season. The gesture made him a somewhat controversial figure.

Carter is played in the movie by Samuel L. Jackson in a truly forceful performance. Upon becoming the new basketball coach at California’s Richmond High School he informs his team, who only won four games in the last season, that they will be given contracts stating that they will agree to maintain a required grade point average of 2.3 or higher, dress up on game days, and address each other as Sir. Most of the players on the team are somewhat cocky, and have problems adjusting to the new policy.

Carter doesn’t play around when it comes to practice. If a player is so much as a minute late for practice, he should execute a series of push ups and sprints. A single act of disrespect of even disagreement towards him will result in even more push ups or sprints.

The movie also takes a look at the lives of the struggling players on the team. The star player, Kenyon Stone (Rob Brown), is contemplating going to college in spite of his girlfriend, Kyra (Ashanti), having a baby on the way. There’s Timo Cruz (Rick Gonzalez) who at first quits the team when refusing to put up with Carter’s strict rules, only to ask to re-join, which Carter allows in exchange for an unimaginable number of sprints and suicides. And there’s Carter’s own son, Damien (Robert Ri’chard), who attends prep school but soon transfers to Richmond to be on his father’s team, and turns out to be one of the teams best players.

Despite taking the team to a winning season, Carter discovers midway through the season that his players are failing at least one class each. He finds this unacceptable, and retaliates by locking the gymnasium and forfeiting all games until their grades are at least a C average. I’ve never seen a single sports coach illustrate the notion of academics over athletics to the extent that Coach Carter has.

This is quite easily the best basketball movie since Hoosiers, and it does carry a valuable message with it. Coach Carter serves as both an entertaining, crowd pleasing sports movie, but also as a reminder to those thinking of making a career in sports. That message is, no matter how talented you think you are, it’s the achievement in the classroom that is the ultimate key to winning.

Despite running about twenty minutes too long, and including one subplot too many, Coach Carter is nevertheless a very fine film with another fantastic performance from Mr. Jackson.

Video ****

Kudos to Paramount for delivering a top notch Blu-ray presentation for this, maybe the first sports themed movie I've seen in the format.  Whether on the court or in the classroom, the high definition transfer maintains a superb visual clarity, richly detailed and boasting natural looking and well-contained colors with no bleeding, compression or undue grain to mar the effect.

Audio ***1/2

It's really in the games where the TrueHD track comes to life with dynamic range, ambient crowd sounds, and lots of b-ball related noises to really put you in the heart of the play.  Most of the movie is dialogue oriented, but the spoken words come through well and balance nicely against the bigger and fuller scenes.

Features **1/2

Not exactly the loaded feature level we’re accustomed to seeing from Paramount, but it’s not exactly a technical foul. Included are two well made featurettes; “Coach Carter: The Man Behind the Movie” and “Fast Break at Richmond High”.  There’s also several deleted scenes, a music video for the song “Hope” by Twista and Faith Evans, and several bonus previews for Paramount titles.

Summary:

Coach Carter is perhaps the most inspirational movie to come around in some time. This fact-based drama on Blu-ray is a must see for fans of basketball, dramatic storytelling and Samuel L. Jackson, who delivers another fantastic performance.

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