Review: 187 – One Eight Seven (1997)

187 – One Eight Seven (1997)

Directed by: Kevin Reynolds | 119 minutes | drama, thriller | Actors: Samuel L. Jackson, John Heard, Kelly Rowan, Clifton Collins Jr., Karina Arroyave, Lobo Sebastian, Jonah Rooney, Tony Plana, Jack Kehler, Demitrius Navarro, Ebony Monique Solomon, Yannis Bogris, Dominic Hoffman, Martha Velez, Method man

Can you still make a film with a rather jaded story and theme interesting, in short, distinguish yourself from the rest? Well, if you’re Samuel. L. Jackson and you have amply proven yourself as an actor. The thin story about youth gangs that make life miserable for students and teachers at school and the tormented teacher who just wants to practice his profession has already resulted in many action films. In fact 187 is, but the extremely strong acting and the heavy atmosphere lift the print above the average.

The great asset of the film is Jackson’s phenomenal acting. In a role that we are not used to from him, Jackson plays the part of a depressed teacher who no longer finds any pleasure in his work. After being stabbed in the back and going through a long rehab, teacher Trevor Garfield (Samuel L. Jackson) decides to start over at a different school. But even in his new workplace, Garfield cannot escape the violence and juvenile delinquency. In the end, the teacher decides to take the law into his own hands. So it’s a revenge movie. As mentioned, the story is very weak and a kind of copy of earlier high school movies. The only noteworthy fact is that the story is based on a book by an ex-teacher.

What the film is quite convincing in is in the portrayal of the characters. Jackson in particular is impressive and plays very subdued. It quickly becomes apparent that this actor is actually carrying the entire film, as the rest of the cast isn’t always sure what to do with their stereotypical roles. Their playing isn’t bad, but they don’t really stand out from the intense acting of the protagonist. John Heard still manages to make some sense of his role as a perverted teacher who has crossed the line between good and evil. In addition to Heard, Clifton Collins Jr. as a Latino gang leader, despite the rather clichéd one-dimensional character, Collins Jr. yet to give a charismatic interpretation to his character.

The atmosphere of the print also plays a very important role. Dark tones, gray close-ups and sober music enhance the melancholy, desolate ‘feel’ of this production. In this film there is no room for humor, or a liberating light-hearted scene. The viewer is sucked into the downward spiral of unhappiness as the main character experiences it. The atmosphere is grim, dark and uncomfortable and can best be compared to that of the revenge film ‘8 mm’. The great thing about this approach is that as a viewer you remain involved in the experiences of Garfield, despite the unbelievableness of the story.

Ultimately, ‘187’, the police code for murder, has become a one man show. Jackson is the binding factor of this print, which, without a skilled actor, got bogged down in an average action film.

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