Carter High

Movie review by
Brian Costello, Common Sense Media
Carter High Movie Poster Image
Football tale about personal responsibility; some cursing.
  • PG-13
  • 2015
  • 110 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Through discussion and example, the importance of making the right choices in life comes up time and time again. The ramifications of making bad decisions are also shown. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Coach James tries to install in his players the value of personal responsibility, of making the right choices in life. In brief interviews at the end of the movie, the real-life former Carter High football players look back on the decisions they made as teenagers and what they learned from their actions. 

Violence

Teens are shown engaged in the act of armed robbery, pointing guns at the employees of various restaurants in the area. Some high school football players are shown on the verge of being disciplined by corporal punishment by an assistant football coach for their misdeeds. 

Sex
Language

The "N" word frequently used during a song played at the credits, used once in the movie. "F--k" used twice. "Bulls--t," "s--t," "ass," "goddammit," "hell." 

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Cigarette smoking. Character smokes a rolled up cigarette, marijuana implied but not explicitly mentioned as such. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Carter High is a 2015 movie based on a true story about a group of players for a championship football team whose lawbreaking actions off the field drastically altered their lives. The idea of making good choices and right decisions is discussed time and time again. Teens are shown engaged in the act of armed robbery, pointing guns at the employees of various restaurants in the area. Some high school football players are shown on the verge of being disciplined by corporal punishment by an assistant football coach for their misdeeds. There is infrequent profanity throughout, including an "N"-word laden song that plays during the movie credits. Other profanity includes "f--k" and "s--t." Some characters smoke cigarettes, as well as rolled up cigarettes that are implied to be marijuana. Some "nerd" stereotyping. While the movie clearly champions personal responsibility, it also hints at systemic racism, a community willing to look the other way when their star athletes are up to no good, and a college athletic system in which universities make millions from their athletic programs while the star athletes who play a large role in bringing in this revenue see no money for their efforts. This movie should inspire discussion of all of these issues between parents and teens. 

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What's the story?

In the fall of 1988 in Dallas, Texas, the CARTER HIGH School football team, led by Coach James (Charles S. Dutton), is poised to be state champions. But their hopes are nearly dashed over a controversial interpretation of a player's academic performance that seems to be rooted in racism, and the team faces disqualification. While lawyers argue in the courtroom, Coach James tries his best to encourage his players to not only be champions on the field, but also off the field by making good choices. With the disqualification finally lifted, Carter High wins the state championship; as a result, the coaches and athletic directors of several major universities meet with Coach James in the hopes of recruiting his high school seniors for their high-profile teams. Now in the off-season, many of the players sign letters of intent to attend some of these universities, and bask in the glow of massive media coverage. But huge problems arise when some of their friends find an easy way to make money -- armed robbery -- and as some of the players get more and more involved in these criminal acts, they find it nearly impossible to give up having lots of extra money. But all of this comes to an inevitable stop when they are finally caught, arrested, and brought to trial, and these players must come to terms with the harsh ramifications of their actions and how they have adversely impacted their futures. 

Is it any good?

While the sincerity in this movie is undeniable, neither is the amateurism of the second-tier actors, as well as some of the questionable decisions made in how this true story was conveyed. The message of personal responsibility is a worthy one, and it's certainly mentioned and shown to the point where it starts to feel heavy-handed, but issues such as systemic racism, how communities everywhere in America tend to look the other way when their star local athletes engage in behavior that would get everyone else into trouble until it's too late, and the role of big money in contemporary athletics are strongly hinted at, but never fully explored. It's clear that everyone involved behind the scenes wants the individuals who broke the law to take full and total responsibility for what transpired, but to do so at the expense of fully addressing issues that continue to exist feels like a missed opportunity. 

There are solid performances from Charles S. Dutton, as well as from some of the actors who play the star Carter High players. At times, though, the movie feels like a second-rate community theater performance, which distracts from what is clearly a compelling true story. Carter High feels like an exercise in what might have been, had the movie been in more experienced hands, and if the story had a broader scope beyond the central message it preaches. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Carter High's theme. How does this movie convey its message of personal responsibility? 

  • How are issues of racism, as well as tight-knit communities holding their star athletes to different standards than others, addressed in the movie? 

  • Many universities make tens of millions of dollars from their athletic programs, especially from their football teams, and the star athletes who help to generate this revenue and provide national exposure to the university see none of this money. Do you think this is fair? What are the pros and cons of paying the student athletes who generate so much revenue? If a payment system had been in place, do you think it would have made a difference in the poor decisions these players made off the field? 

Movie details

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