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Life of a King
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Life of a King is based on the true story of Eugene Brown, an ex con who leaves prison and becomes an unlikely chess teacher to inner-city kids. There's some drug-related gun violence in the movie that leaves one teen shot and killed; a man beats up his girlfriend and her teenage son. Language includes "damn," "dumbass," "ass," "what the hell," and more. The movies feature inspiring messages about changing your life, learning a new skill, and making a plan for a better future.
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- Kids say
What's the story?
Based on a true story, LIFE OF A KING tells the inspiring story of ex-con-turned-chess-teacher Eugene Brown (Cuba Gooding Jr.). Brown spent his time in prison mentored by a prisoner nicknamed the Chessman (Dennis Haysbert), who taught him to love the game of kings. Once out of prison, the ex-felon desperately needs a job and lands one as a high school janitor in inner-city D.C. After the detention monitor is scared by her disrespectful charges, the well-meaning principal asks Eugene to temporarily step in, and he ends up teaching the kids how to play chess. Some of the hardened teens excel at it, so Eugene starts to enter chess competitions. Eventually the club moves off school property to a house he converts into an after-school rec center. Although one of the teens meets a tragic end, the core group of chess students end up enamored with the game and change their prospects for the future.
Is it any good?
Despite an admirable performance by Gooding Jr., humanizing a complicated man who truly seems to have changed his life, this movie is nearly unbelievably predictable -- even if it is fact-based. The entire film seems like a mash-up of several other movies about educators and coaches who help a group of inner-city youth: Stand and Deliver, Pride, Dangerous Minds, Lean On Me, and so on -- but it's not quite as interesting or well acted or even inspiring.
There are no failings in the performances, and the real story is no doubt empowering and touching, but the fictional representation of Brown's chess club is frustratingly obvious, plot point by plot point. The drug-using, abused mom, for example, calls her son's interest in chess "dumb," but everyone knows she'll be there crying and cheering him on for the championship match. It's too bad the story wasn't told as a documentary, because it's the real tale that should be retold and reproduced in other inner-city environments.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the teen violence. Could this story have been told as effectively without the violence, or is the violence necessary to show the despair of how the teens live?
Discuss how chess is used as a metaphor for life. In what ways does Eugene explain that chess can help teens prepare for life?
What are some other movies about inspiring educators and advocates of young people? Name some of your favorites.
- In theaters: January 17, 2014
- On DVD or streaming: February 11, 2014
- Cast: Cuba Gooding Jr., Dennis Haysbert, LisaGay Hamilton
- Director: Jake Goldberger
- Studio: Millennium Films
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: High School
- Run time: 101 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: for thematic elements, some drug content and brief violent images - all involving teens.
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