Ex-felon, Eugene Brown, establishes a Chess Club for inner city teenagers in Washington, D.C. It’s the story of a man who wants to give those Afro-American kids something they never had : a future.
Apparently “Life of a King” is the true story of the ex-detainee Eugene Brown who founded a chess club in the slums of Washington, to keep teenagers of the streets and to teach the philosophical significance of a game of chess. I say “apparently” because I read on the internet that the real Eugene Brown only gave chess lessons at an elementary school, and certainly not at a high school. Also he would be too afraid to hang around with teenagers driving fast cars, waving with guns and trade drugs. So this movie is 95% fiction. The idea to establish a chess club for underprivileged children came from one Sergeant Michael Brown (no relation incidentally) who served in the fire department in Washington D.C.
Whether it is a slightly modified version of the real facts, actually isn’t relevant. I thought it was a fascinating and poignant film about underprivileged kids who escape reality every day and don’t think a descent education is important. They flee into the criminal world and turn against the social values. The content of “Life of a king” is twofold. On the one hand we have the rebellious youth rejecting any form of authority except that of a local criminal. On the other hand, we have some good Samaritan who believes that these young people do have a future and tries to help them. The subject is nothing new and there are a whole series of movies with a similar theme. From “Boys Town” and “Blackboard Jungle” to “Class of 1984” and “Dangerous Minds” . In all these movies a figure emerges who has the will and patience to put the derailed youth back on track. The biggest cliche in all these films is the fact there needs to happen a tragic accident before everyone comes to their senses.
Cuba Gooding Jr. plays a wonderful part. I’m not a big fan of Cuba, but I thought this was a magnificent performance. He always has such a somber and sad look on his face that perfectly fits this role. A broken man after a long imprisonment who realizes that his only purpose, just like a pawn in a chess game, is to protect an important person and at the end gets sacrificed. That’s the message he tries to convey to the young kids. Clifton (Carlton Byrd) is the leading figure of the young ones who’s dealing for a local drugs lord. He’s the only one who doesn’t believe in the chess game of Eugene but immediately realizes that the latter is not quickly intimidated. Tahime (Malcolm Mays) is the timid boy with family problems and follows Clifton blindly until the end. Peanut (Kevin Hendricks) is the soft hearted of the classroom and gets handed the role of victim.
The message Eugene wants to tell, is that life is like a chess game. Once you understand and apply that to daily life, there are opportunities to escape the downward spiral. At times I found it very moving. But you have to admit that this is just an average movie with the usual cliches and predictable situations. This movie will finally end up on some TV channel that broadcasts more of this moralizing, with life stories filled, movies.
A beautiful rendition in a well known framework.