On the surface of Coach Carter, there's the compelling true story about Ken Carter, a former player at Richmond High School who was owner of a sporting goods store near his alma mater, when he was asked to take over the reins of the struggling high school basketball team. He took over as coach with the intent to bring structure and discipline to the players, and the players responded on the court. Off the court though, the teachers at school seemed to be overlooking their responsibility, and he took the unprecedented step of locking the players out of practice and games until their grades improved to a standard that not only was above the county school board standard, but was one which the players and coach agreed upon.
Written by Mark Schwahn (One Tree Hill) and John Gatins, and directed by Thomas Carter (Save the Last Dance), Carter is played by Samuel L. Jackson (Snakes on a Place), who coaches Kenyon (Rob Brown, The Express), Cruz (Rick Gonzalez, War of the Worlds), Worm (Antwon Tanner, One Eight Seven) and Jason (Channing Tatum, Step Up), among others, including Carter's son Damien (Robert Ri'chard, House of Wax). Carter leads them to the state playoffs while grooming them into productive and beneficent members of society. The actors themselves aren't too shabby in their roles, and as for Jackson, it's not the first time that he's played a role set in a California high school, but oddly enough, he plays the role in a rather understated manner. He possesses a quite tone with a few subtleties that recent characters of his haven't had, and when it comes to basketball coaches, you can really see in his eyes that he wants to make a difference past what's on the court.
With those commendable things going for it, Coach Carter still manages to fall into a lot of the same traps that other basketball/high school sports films have went to before to try and reach an emotional cord or two. Cruz is the Bird Williams of the group, the talented player who seems to choose a thug's life over a regular one. During the lockout, a show of solidarity by the players looks vaguely Jimmy Chickwood-ian. And there's a whole host of scenes, either standalone or in montage that are the usual spots where the Coach meets the players and whips them into shape. Thomas Carter, who is not related to the film's subject, has this film clock in at an obscene 136 minutes, and scenes like this, and other unnecessary ones, at least 15 minutes could have been trimmed from the final cut. That and the performance by singer Ashanti, who plays Kenyon's future baby mama. You can't take emotional resonance from someone who shows no emotion during the scenes she's in. It's like Carter wants to weave an epic, but doesn't have the tools to do it
To his credit, Carter knows that the basketball is going to be there and lets that part of things play out, but the part of the story that not a lot of people know/remember was the lockout that occurred during a key point of the season. The frustration in the system and supposed "support channels" exhibited by Jackson is both just and right, setting the proper message that if a student-athlete's behavior is looked the other way, said behavior will continue for years after they leave high school. That's what Jackson seemed to be indicating, and Carter illustrates that message very well. I just wish it didn't take 75 minutes to get to that point, Jackson's underrated performance aside.
The Blu-ray Disc:
The film's 2.35:1 AVC MPEG-4 encoded widescreen presentation was better than I was expecting. Detail is very good in many sequences, and while there's not a lot of exterior to enjoy in urban California, you can make out fine things like the fabrics in Jackson's jackets, and there's even a hint of background depth that makes it look nice. Coach Carter does suffer from moments of image softness, and the whites run a little hot, especially during the opening and closing titles, but for modest expectations, Coach Carter looks nice.
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack is decent if not really memorable. Dialogue stays in the center channel for the entire film, and the various songs in the film are replicated accurately, with a slightly dynamic soundstage and no low end activity. This is a straightforward soundtrack, with nothing in the way of directional activity and very little surround usage. Good, but not great, and a presumed upgrade from the standard definition version which includes an English 5.1 surround version. French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks are the other options to choose from here.
I was expecting a little more supplemental material than was actually here, but what is here is nice. "The Man Behind The Movie" (19:41) examines the background of Carter with biographical information and interviews with him, his son, his family and some of the Richmond alumni. Jackson discusses playing him and the lockout is discussed with recollections from Carter and the students about it. "Fast Break at Richmond High" (11:40) is a clever play on words about getting the basketball sequences right, and the film's technical advisor discusses working with the actors, who cover how the process of becoming proficient in the sport. Six deleted scenes (12:10) follow, and aside from an emotional scene where the team welcomes back Cruz, the other scenes are unnecessary. A music video (4:26) follows, while "The Two Man Game" (8:25) covers the difficulties of writing the story into screenplay form. "Making the Cut" (18:22) is the closest thing to a comprehensive look at the making of the film, with interviews from the cast and crew, as well as Carter, as they share their thoughts on the film. The trailer (2:32), presented in high definition, is included for your entertainment.
All in all, Coach Carter does have the best intentions and has its moments sometimes, but the pacing of the film is dreadful, and much of what occurs in it is not unlike every other "sports underdog" film you've seen before. Technically it's a definite upgrade from the standard definition version, so if you want to double-dip, fire away. The new consumer should do nothing more than give it a rental and forget about it.