Coach Carter has a few simple rules for his basketball team: his students must attend all their classes whilst sitting in the front row, maintain a 2.3 Grade Point Average and wear suits on the day they have an actual game. Making the students sign contracts binding them to this agreement imposes these rules. No one is spared, not even Carter's own son.
As played by Samuel L. Jackson, Carter says what he means and very well means what he says. Jackson's performance here is akin to that of a black hole sucking up the presence of all the others whenever on screen. The blinding conviction and determination, sometimes bordering on personal vanity but never unjust, becomes a force to be reckoned with. Punishing the entire team for the mistake of one member enforces the concept of a team. But in an exemplary manner, the reverse also holds true, whereby the entire team distributes the punishment given to any one student amongst the rest of the players.
Why all this punishing and retaliation in a sports movie? Because this isn't your average matinee film about a trainer fighting the odds and taking his unspectacular team to victory. Here the big question isn't whether Carter's team will win the National championships, but given their dismal academic performances, whether he will even allow them to play in the finals. According to the coach, if the team can't learn discipline or show barely average academic results in class, they don't stand a chance as players anyway and are unlikely to get into good colleges.
Apparently inspired by a true story, the movie is certainly pontificating but never overly preachy. It exists within the genre of the sports team/inspiring coach movie world only to the extent needed to create its basic identity, for without pulse pounding, clock zooming court action and locker room speeches, this would not qualify as a befitting member of said category to begin with. But the movie also has a point to make and lessons about personal choice to teach and it takes its time to focus in on some of the personal lives of individual players all the while treating us to some very worthy basketball action set to great music. There is a moment, right before the very last match, where the director has a great opportunity to end without showing us the details of the game, because by then we've seen one game too many, and really the outcome wouldn't matter, but it chooses to play along and let itself get carried away some more. Still, your tolerance for what you see (and read) will depend on your familiarity with such movies. My personal lack of having watched any of the recent sports themed movies, and there have been many, may contribute to my recommending it highly, but it is obvious when mediocrity as a subject matter reaches great heights in execution and by those accounts 'Coach Carter' is in a league of its own. - Faizan Rashid