2013 / Director. Jake Goldberger.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
Here we go again... another case of "seen it all before". You know the story; teacher comes to underprivileged school and inspires the unruly students. Sidney Portier, Morgan Freeman, Edward James Elmos, Michelle Pfeiffer and Hilary Swank are just some of the people who've done it all before... and now it's Cuba Gooding Jr's turn. I've never considered him much of an actor. He's given some decent performances and fluked his way to an Oscar but for the most part he's terribly overrated. Thankfully he fits the bill in LIFE OF A KING and delivers a heartfelt turn as an ex-convict who starts a chess club in an impoverished, crime infested urban neighbourhood. As expected, every beat along the way can be predicted. We know where this story is going and we know what hurdles are bound to arise. The good news is that it's a well made film and offers something alternative in its setting. Inspired by a true story (aren't they all?) the central environment of the story is removed from the classroom and set in a community club house. Using the chess board as a metaphor to life's challenges, this mentor figure is able to inspire the kids and have them think before they make any important moves. Of course it's fairly hokey stuff and being a PG rated movie it tows a very safe line. Nevertheless the message is earnest and the performances are all very good. I can also admit that I was honestly gripped by some of the chess tournament moments. Think about it... it takes a good movie to make chess gripping. I do wish that it had defied many of the regular conventions but I was also pleased that it presented a new context of redemption on the mentor's side of the story. Adding a smidgen of credibility, LIFE OF A KING finished with photographs of the real characters alongside information about their ongoing story. It is actually inspiring stuff. This might not be anything special but I do think it's better than average.