Film, Reviews
Jun 20, 2013

LAFF: LIFE OF A KING STARRING CUBA GOODING JR.

There comes a moment when one is playing chess, when you have to protect your king. Developing a plan can put your chess peices in a good position; however, in almost any position the opposing player can and will be able to make threats against your king.  You have to be alert at all times or one careless move can destroy your game. This became the real life lesson of Eugene Brown, protrayed by Cuba Gooding Jr.

In Life of a King, Cuba Gooding Jr.(RadioOne in the Chamber), plays a father of two, just out of prison for bank robbery. During his time behind bars, he learns about the game of chess and sees how the stratagies and lessons learned can be applied to life. Protecting your ‘King’ becomes protecting your ‘Life’ and he is determined to make his life right. But life outside of prison isn’t easy to get back into especially in the Nation’s Capital. One thing he plans on making right is his relationship with his daughter, Katrina ‘Trini’ (Rachae Thomas) and son Marco.

Trini isn’t thrilled to have Eugene back in her life, but despite this he has intentions of making amends. Finding employment in society post-prison comes with a lot of rejections and he is tempted go get back into the criminal life. Luckily, Eugene lands employment at a typical “rough neighborhood” high school as a janitor.  When the detention monitor gets run out by the kids, the principal Sheila King- beautifully played by Lisa Gay Hamilton (Law & OrderGrey’s Anatomy)- makes Eugene the new monitor and his experience in prison makes him an unexpected authority figure to the kids.

Eugene uses the lessons of the game of chess and applies them to the lives’ of others.  He tells his class, “this is a king, this is your life, one mistake and it can be taken away.” Three students stand out for him: “Clifton” (Carlton Byrd) who runs with “Perry” (Richard T. Jones) who was Eugene’s old crew boss; “T” or “Tahime” (Malcolm Mays) a younger boy with promise but with a home life that includes a verbally abusive mother (played wonderfully by Paula Jai Parker); and “Peanut” (Kevin Hendricks) who is the most curious and impressionable. During the film, Eugene finds a house which he fixes up  and turns into a haven for the boys called the Big Chair Chess Club.

All is going well, until the principal discovers the truth about Eugene’s past and is left with no choice but to fire him. A downward spiral ensues in which the chess house is vandalized and during a robbery, Peanut is faced with a choice of life or death. Taking on the tone of film’=s that have come before it, think Dangerous Minds or Lean on Me, it becomes clear the Cuba’s character must restore inspiration to his students and redeem himself. With his help, Tahime aims to compete in the U.S. Chess Federal Tournament where the boys learn the greatest lesson of all- that there is nothing better than getting a second chance in life.

The film is rounded out by a strong supporting cast inckuding Malcolm Mays, Dennis Haysbert, and Paula Jai Parker.  Life of a King premiered at the LAFF on June 22nd and will be followed by a national release.