I'm surprised 'Life of a King' squeaked by me when it was originally released. I'm a sucker for chess movies, as well as dramatic Cuba Gooding Jr. roles. Put those two together, and you more or less have 'Life of a King', which is a story about redemption, learning, and chess. Over the years, there have been many films depicting the game of chess. Whether the films be about Bobby Fisher, inner city chess competitions, or a comedic take on the strategic game, we have seen our share of characters saying...(dramatic pause)... "check-mate" on the big screen.
Director Jake Goldberger draws from a few movies to bring us 'Life of a King'. He mostly takes his cues from 'Lean on Me' and 'Fresh', as he mixes both story lines to form his own. Cuba plays Eugene, a former prison inmate who has spent his previous twenty year of life behind bars. While there, a man named Searcy (the great Dennis Haysbert) took Eugene under his wing and taught him the game of chess, as well as some important life lessons on how to be a good role model and help others.
If you can't already tell, this movie is lined with cheesiness and cliches throughout, but it isn't all that bad either. Once a newly reformed Eugene is released from prison, he gets a job as a custodian at an unruly local high school. When he sees one of the more disorderly classes left unsupervised, he is asked to watch the class for a little bit. When the principal (Lisa Gay Hamilton) comes back to check on things, she finds that Eugene has taken control and calmed this seemingly rowdy classroom, which is something that apparently hasn't been done well before. Eugene is asked to look after the class again when everyone sees that he is able to control the kids.
Sooner than later, the kids gain Eugene's trust as he opens their minds and hearts to the game of chess and a variety of important life lessons. Like we've seen before in many other films of this caliber, the high-school kids in the classroom are on their way to a life of gangs, murder, and drugs. But there is that one teacher who they connect with that always puts them on the golden path to graduation and college. The kids learn to like chess and Eugene notices one kid named Tahime (Malcolm M. Mays), is a natural and somewhat of a chess prodigy, however, Tahime lacks the obedience to play the game.
Soon, Eugene makes enough money to purchase a foreclosed house and turn it into a center to teach kids the game of chess and the game of life. Cuba gives a great performance, something I haven't seen in a few years from him. It was good to see him back in this type of dramatic role. 'Life of a King' is ultimately about redemption and choosing the right path as Eugene comes to atone for his criminal past and to teach the other kids who are going down that same dark road that the street to drugs and violence are not the answer.
This is nothing new here. You can tell the outcome of the characters and plot lines fairly early on, as everything is pretty much "on the nose". Malcolm Mays shines as we see his struggle to do right from wrong. I can see Mays as a future star if he continues doing this good of work. 'Life of a King' offers little that's teribly original, but it stands on its own due to its solid performances.
'Life of a King' comes with an average 1080p HD transfer presented in 1.78:1 aspect ratio. This is not a particular flashy or detailed image. Instead, it's a somewhat muted and vague video presentation. Detail is sharp during closeups, which reveal some nice individual hairs on the actor's faces , but it also has a soft, flat look as well.
The wider shots don't display a lot of depth either. The colors all seem to be under-saturated and never pop off the screen with bright and vibrant colors. The black levels aren't always deep and inky, but the skin tones seem natural and smooth. There are some minor issues with banding and aliasing, but it isn't a major problem throughout. This video image does the job, but barely.
This release comes with a lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio mix and is also an average presentation like it's video above. Dialogue is always crystal clear and easy to understand. There weren't any pops, cracks, or hissing that I noticed either. The ambient noises and sound effects are not that robust or full. You will hear them come through the surrounds at times, but not often.
The better sounds come when there is applause from a crowd or a gunshot. Other than that, you can expect a front heavy track. The score and music sound decent enough and does not drown out any of the dialogue or sound effects. The LFE is decent and the dynamic range isn't exactly as wide as it could be. This could have had a better audio presentation, but again it's just passable.
Trailers (HD, 10 mins) - A few trailers for other movies from Millennium Films.
'Life of a King' is a solid film, despite its many cliches. The performances by Cuba Gooding Jr. and Malcolm Mays carry this movie. It's a feel good movie as well as inspirational, but it never gets over that hump into greatness that other films have done in the past. The video and audio presentations are sub-par, and without any extras, I can only advise you to rent this before purchasing.