Friday, January 17, 2014

Life of a King Movie Review

Cuba Gooding, Jr. stars in Life of a King

Take Care of the King 

'This is a King: This is your life. One mistake, and it can be taken away.' Wise words, from a man who's made his share of mistakes. Eugene Brown spent almost 18 years in prison; and when he got out, helped change the lives of many local, disadvantaged kids through chess. In Jake Goldberger's drama Life of a King, Brown is portrayed by former Oscar winner Cuba Gooding, Jr., who does a brilliant job of conveying just how much a difference one man can make.

Rotten Tomatoes Plot: Life of a King is the unlikely true story of Eugene Brown and his one-man mission to give inner-city kids of Washington D.C. something he never had - a future. He discovered a multitude of life lessons through the game of chess during his 18-year incarceration for bank robbery. After his release and reentry into the workforce, Eugene developed and founded the Big Chair Chess Club to get kids off the streets and working towards lives they never believed they were capable of due to circumstances. From his daring introductory chess lessons to group of unruly high school students in detention to the development of the Club and the teens' first local chess competitions, this movie reveals his difficult, inspirational journey and how he changed the lives of a group of teens with no endgame.

What’s Best: Let's be honest: Without Gooding Jr., this film probably doesn't reach my radar. But it does have Cuba, and he shines in a role that provides little to no flash. Gooding's Mr. Brown has depth of character, and plenty of it. He's far from perfect; but he's proactive, and determined to "pass on" what's he learned. Credit Gooding for "keeping it real," and delivering an authentic approach to dealing with reluctant teens. He boasts, 'I'm real good with children,' but it's his strength, and desire to better the lives of others that sets him apart from more established teachers. A movie like this could easily slip into something jive and syrupy sweet... Gooding would never let that happen. Just one more reason he's one of my favorite actors in Hollywood.

What’s Not: It's hard not to overlook some similarities between Life of a King, and movies like Dangerous Minds, Freedom Writers and any number of sports films, where the "poor kids" make good (despite incredible odds.) You also have to question the relative ease at which Brown turns these kids onto a game like chess; but heck, it's a movie... right? That said, I found it real enough to follow through to the end.

Best Line: The timing is bad (he was fired from his janitorial job just seconds earlier) but that doesn't hinder Eugene from sharing the following wisdom, 'Chess is no different than life. These suburban kids... They know (that if) they get good grades, they go off to college. They know they're gonna own their own business some day: They envision an end game; but poor kids don't think like that.'

Overall: You can learn lessons in all kinds of places, and from all sorts of people... even "one of the last few soldiers." Life of a King takes a direct (sometimes predictable) path to salvation; but thanks to a sterling performance from Gooding Jr. and solid turns from co-stars Kevin Hendricks (Peanut) Malcom M. Mays (Tahime) and LisaGay Hamilton (Ms. Hill) it gets the job done... and then some. Brown sees 'a mansion of possibilities' where others see turmoil and despair. Thanks to Gooding's interpretation, we get to see it too. Toss in a funk-laced soundtrack (keep an ear out for Aceyalone's Push n'Pull) and you have one of those rare movies that spreads a message without skimping on the entertainment.