One Eight Seven (a.k.a.187) (1997)

187Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Kelly Rowan, Clifton Gonzalez Gonzalez, Tony Plana, Karina Arroyave, and John Heard.
Written by Scott Yagemann.
Directed by Kevin Reynolds.

Grade: D+

Review by Carlo Cavagna.

If you're looking for another Stand and Deliver, watch something else. One Eight Seven is a classroom drama, but that's where the similarities end. A more nihilistic drama is difficult to imagine. Samuel Jackson plays Trevor Garfield, a dedicated teacher who is stabbed in his Brooklyn classroom by one of his students, a gang member. The indifference of the school's administration and the seriousness of the stabbing profoundly change Garfield and drive him away from Brooklyn.

A year later Garfield resurfaces at a inner-city public school in Los Angeles, where the students are just as dangerous and the administration just as indifferent. Although Garfield begins to make a difference in the lives of some students, he is once again unable to reach those who are in gangs. When they become more threatening and violent, Garfield goes over the edge and resorts to violence himself.

Samuel Jackson is always a pleasure to watch and director Kevin Reynolds adds elegant camerawork, accompanied by music from Massive Attack and other down-tempo electronic bands. However, the material doesn't live up to Jackson and Reynolds' abilities. As a character study, One Eight Seven might have been interesting, had Garfield's psyche been probed more deeply. Instead, One Eight Seven thinks of itself as a grand tragedy, with Garfield as its archetypal hero. He is presented as a noble figure, even though his actions demonstrate that he's little better than the gang members. At the end of the film, a caption informs you that One Eight Seven was "written by a teacher," as if that fact somehow adds significance to the script. Instead, what it suggests is that One Eight Seven is a bit of a revenge fantasy.

Review © March 1999 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Image © Icon/Warner Bros.

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