Paramount // 2005 // 136 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Joel Pearce (Retired) // January 9th, 2009
It begins on the streets. It ends here.
Slightly different from a generic high school sports movie, Coach Carter pushes to be about much more than just basketball. It is also about sportsmanship, about opportunities, and about growing up in bad neighborhoods. It's also about the change that one person can make when that person is willing to stand up against all opposition to do what is right. While it will certainly appeal to a number of audiences, other viewers will find it a bit too predictable, preachy, and long.
Coach Ken Carter (Samuel L. Jackson, Snakes on a Plane) is hired to coach the Richmond Oilers, a mediocre basketball team in a rough, inner-city school. Decades before, he had been the school's state champion, but returns to find a group of tough kids with little respect for school or authority. With a no-nonsense attitude, he pushes the team further than they have ever been before, even shutting down the team when he learns how bad they are in school. Carter insists that they must be students first and athletes second, but that could cost the team the season, and Carter the respect of the community.
Upon its release, the actual Coach Carter couldn't help but smile. I'm sure the real man is a wonderful guy, but Sam Jackson turns him into one tough, cool basketball coach. In fact, if they ever do a biography of me, I want an actor that makes me look this good. I have a lot of respect for what Carter did, the difficult choice he made in the face of such strong opposition, but I can't help but be a little troubled by this portrayal. Like so many other sports movies, it all happens a bit too easily, a bit too slickly. Jackson gets these great little speeches, the boys are all decent kids deep down, the main story and the basketball games lack suspense.
Things get better as the film progresses, but the game is definitely better on the court than off. The relationship between Kenyon (Rob Brown, Finding Forrester) and his pregnant girlfriend (Ashanti, Resident Evil: Extinction) falls completely flat, and Timo's (Rick Gonzalez, Pulse) struggle with drug dealing relatives doesn't get enough screen time to truly resonate. In fact, we never get to know any of the characters well enough -- which is surprising considering the 135 minute running time. A tighter, leaner, tougher approach would have improved the film, though I suppose this is exactly what the production team chose to deliver. Doubtless Coach Carter has been an inspiration to coaches and athletes since its original release, but I fear it will never have the social impact that director Thomas Carter (Save the Last Dance) wants.
I'm a little torn whether to recommend the transfer on the Blu-ray release. It is, of course, a noticeable improvement over what DVD can offer. The details are sharper, the colors are more rich, but I couldn't help but feel there's something missing here. Part of that is the black level, which is much weaker here than I've come to expect from high definition content. A lot of shadow details get lost, which is usually one of the biggest benefits of a high def upgrade. A close inspection also reveals quite a bit of grain, and not the good kind. It's certainly not a terrible transfer, but it can't compete with many of the Blu-ray transfers that I've seen. I was equally disappointed by the sound transfer. The surrounds are used during games and for ambiance, but this is a pretty anemic transfer given the soundtrack and the overall feel of the game. The basketball games don't surround the viewer with crowd noises well enough, the soundtrack lacks punch in the bottom end, and much of the film is constrained to the front soundstage. I noticed little benefit by moving up to an uncompressed sound format.
The extras are ported over from the DVD, mostly in standard definition. We get an interview segment on the real Ken Carter (who does, indeed, lack the presence of Sam Jackson), several featurettes and deleted scenes, a music video, and the trailer in...wait for it...high definition.
Many of the Blu-ray releases I've picked up have been a marked improvement over their DVD counterparts. Thanks to a mediocre video transfer and an anemic sound mix, I can hardly call the Blu-ray release of Coach Carter a revelation. It's probably worth grabbing for serious fans of the film, but everyone else should just hang on to the DVD.
Not guilty, though I am going to give this release a bit of time on the bench.
Review content copyright © 2009 Joel Pearce; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p Widescreen)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 136 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Deleted Scenes
* Music Video
* Official Site