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One Eight Seven (187) (1997)

  Directed by: Kevin Reynolds
Written by: Scott Yagemann
Starring: John Heard, Samuel L. Jackson, Kelly Rowan
Links: One Eight Seven on the IMDb, Official site, Buy on Video, Buy on DVD, Buy the Soundtrack
Genre: Drama

This movie gets: 8.00 (1 rating) Ranking: not yet ranked (awaiting 2 ratings)

"Yes we like him, Sam he is." - a review by mino

187 is a treat: a truly uplifting movie. Not because it's heartwarming and feel-good: far from it. It is, in fact, quite bleak and rather nihilistic. No, 187 is a joy to watch because it reminds you, after seeing some of the crap that he's churned out of late, what an astoundingly good actor Samuel L. Jackson can be, in the right movie.

Jackson is Trevor Garfield, a meek and mild teacher in a New York school. After recovering from being savagely beaten by a student he intends to fail, Garfield heads to Los Angeles, where he works as a substitute teacher. Before long, Garfield is wrapped up in a turf war more serious than anything he dealt with in New York: not just between groups of students, but between teachers and students too.

On the face of it, this doesn't sound that different to any other inner-city school film, like, say, Dangerous Minds (1995). In a way, it's not: good chunks of 187 are nothing more than (admittedly well-written and wonderfully acted) riffs on the usual themes of troubled teens, gangs, and drugs. However, there's a whole other undercurrent to 187 which bubbles slowly to the surface, changing it from an enjoyable but unremarkable ‘wrong side of the tracks’ movie to a very engaging thriller. The last third or so of the film definitely breaks type, and makes for a rather unexpected change in pace.

Where 187 comes undone is probably in some of the supporting characters. While the performances can't be faulted, sometimes the supporting actors aren't given as much meat to work with as they could have been. John Heard, for example, does a wonderful job as sleazy, cynical teacher Dave Childress, but his character doesn't quite ring true — he's potentially fascinating, but just a little too two-dimensional. Likewise, Kelly Rowan is very good as Garfield's would-be love interest, but the whole romantic subplot is nothing more than an annoyance so the effort is kind of wasted.

That said, 187 is a very fine film. Jackson puts in one of his better performances, which is certainly high praise. He manages to create a brilliantly complex character who is variously to be pitied, admired, feared, liked, and respected. It's just a little unfortunate that the script and direction mix equal parts clever innovation with cliché-ridden by-the-numbers cop-outs, making for a slightly unsatisfying movie on the whole.

187 is very very good, it's just that it could have been brilliant.

mino gives this movie 8 out of 10.
Review created on Sat 5 Jun 2004

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