Life of a King Blu-ray Review

Freedom.  Today that’s the most important word for Eugene Brown (Gooding), who is being released after doing 17 years for bank robbery.  He is a much different man than the one who entered prison.  To remind him of this difference he is given a gift by a fellow inmate (Haysbert).  A large, carved wooden chess piece; the King.

Cuba Gooding Jr., Dennis Haysbert in Life of a King

Part LEAN ON ME, part SUMMER SCHOOL, LIFE OF A KING is based on the true story of a man who used the game, and the lessons, of chess to better himself and passed on those lessons to those he came in contact with.  Finding it hard to get a job with a criminal record, Eugene learns of a janitorial opening at a local high school and lies on his application.  He is doing well when the principal (Lisa Gay Hamilton) asks him to “keep an eye” on the daily detention classroom.  Seems the students have intimidated the current teacher into leaving and the principal must find a new monitor.  When one of the problem students challenges Eugene he is quickly brought down to reality.  To the principal’s surprise, she returns to the classroom to find all of the students sitting quietly at their desks.  Impressed, she makes Eugene the detention monitor where he tries to teach the misfits the skills he learned from the game.

Cuba Gooding Jr., Dennis Haysbert in Life of a King

After making so many terrible choices after winning an Oscar for JERRY MAGUIRE, Gooding has, in recent years, taken on more personal projects and supporting roles.  As Eugene he is given the opportunity to touch all of his emotions and he does a fine job.  Eugene has two children of his own.  His daughter is studying to be a lawyer while his son has followed in his pop’s footsteps and is currently residing at the gray-bar hotel.  Gooding excels here when adversity again pops up in his life.  His prison record is soon revealed to the principal, who must dismiss him.  Undaunted he rents and refurbishes an old house which he fills with boards and pieces and earns the name “the Chess House.”  The film follows what could easily be a TV “movie of the week,” with its look at inner city conditions (the funny kid who “goes along” during a crime – you know he’s going to die….the smart, angry student who could be a chess champion if only he was given the chance) but manages to rise above that style thanks to the solid performances of Gooding and his co-stars, among them Carlton Byrd, Kevin Hendricks and Malcolm M. Mays.  These actors go above and beyond by not stereotyping their characters.  Rather than just buying into the idea the kids are slow to accept Eugene and his “game,” making the film a chess game in itself as you try to figure out which move each character will make next.

Cuba Gooding Jr., Dennis Haysbert in Life of a King

Filmed in and around Washington D.C., the atmosphere of the city is nicely captured by director Goldberger and his cinematographer, Mark Schwartzbard.


Video:  Presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio, the film has sharp details but an almost “gloomy” look.  I’ll assume it’s intentional to show the bleak conditions in the character’s lives.

Audio:  Presented in English in both a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack, the audio is clean and clear.  There is really not a lot of “ambiance” sounds featured so you don’t lose anything during the occasional musical score interruption.

Sadly, with the exception of a couple of trailers, there are no extras on this disc.  Hence the low “overall” score.


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