New Chess Movie: Life of a King
Here's a nice review of a movie with chess as a motif. Director: Jake Goldberger. US. 2013. 101mins.
Life Of A King is the tale of an ex-con (Cuba Gooding Jr.,) who teaches some inner-city teens about discipline through chess. Gooding does what he can to portray Brown as a flawed, ordinary man who chose to make the world around him a little better — and, in the process, find redemption — and the actor largely avoids grandstanding theatrics.
Premiering at the Los Angeles Film Festival, Life Of A King will benefit commercially from Gooding’s involvement, and audiences may respond to the movie’s dependably feel-good genres. (Life Of A King combines a sports movie with an inspirational-teacher narrative.)
Directed and co-written by Jake Goldberger (Don McKay), Life Of A King tells the story of Eugene Brown, who in the 1990s rebuilt his life by starting a chess club for at-risk youths. The film introduces us to Brown (Gooding) just as he’s released following a 17-year sentence for a bank robbery. Because of his criminal record, Brown has difficulty finding a job, especially since he wants to leave behind his old ways, resisting overtures from a former associate (Richard T. Jones) who offers him a lucrative gig as part of his drug operation.
Instead, Brown works as a janitor at an impoverished high school, although he soon becomes a fill-in detention monitor for the school’s worst delinquents. With his street-smart demeanour, he’s able to talk to these kids in a way that their intimidated teachers can’t, and he encourages them to take up chess, a game he learned while in prison. Quickly, it becomes clear that one of his pupils, the stoic Tahime (Malcolm Mays), has real talent, but the teen is torn between pursuing chess and following his buddy Clifton (Carlton Byrd) into crime.
Brown sees chess as a metaphor for life: Each move should be carefully considered and an endgame must always be in mind. It’s a useful analogy, particularly for the poor African-American youth enrolled in Brown’s chess club who don’t have the educational or economic opportunities that others enjoy.
As Life Of A King’s storyline shifts from Brown to Tahime’s quest for a city championship, the proceedings remain stiflingly predictable, but Mays infuses his scenes with feeling, which is even more impressive because the character is so withdrawn and terse.
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