Directed by Kevin Reynolds
After being stabbed in a Brooklyn school, inner-city teacher Trevor Garfield (Samuel L. Jackson) moves to Los Angeles only to learn that things are not that different there.
One Eight Seven (also written as 187) was early on in Samuel L. Jackson’s rise to prominence and this is his first time getting top billing. He really blew up after Pulp Fiction and he started getting put in a lot of movies. This was before he was known as a foulmouthed actor. And he really is not one. He is very memorable when he swears because he has a very catchy way of delivering profanity but that is not his whole thing. In this movie he barely swears at all.
Garfield is a broken teacher that just wants to teach. He does not seek confrontation but when he feels that he has no other choice he uses his knowledge to begin exacting revenge. Garfield is trapped by his past and unable to move beyond the trauma that happened. It is a combination of his new environment which is not that different from the old and his own inner demons. You watch as he exacts revenge but also engages in his own self destruction by exacting that revenge.
By and large the characters in this film are not good people. Even the best of them, Ellen Henry (Kelly Rowan) whom Garfield begins a romance with, has her flaws but she in the end is the purest of souls among the characters. He encounters indifferent school officials. He has to deal with a violent student body that because of laws and fear of lawsuits runs unchecked.
Dave Childress (John Heard) is an alcoholic history teacher in whose desk Trevor finds a gun after accidentally entering the wrong classroom on the first day. Childress has a weird idolization of Trevor having learned he was stabbed. Childress generally abuses his position as a teacher. The man is probably as dangerous as any of the gangbangers among the student body.
Of the students, there is one bright spot in a young woman named Rita Martínez (Karina Arroyave) who is applying herself to her studies and attempting to do well enough to break free of her environment. But between Childress and her fellow students, whether consciously or unconsciously, they are doing everything they can to keep her trapped. They mock her for learning and working to do better.
The music in the film is the type you would find in an inner-city set film of the day. They tended to have almost identical soundtracks. It is hip-hop but not the heavy hip-hop type. It sets the mood without beating you over the head. There were no big names attached near as I can recall. Far different than what you would get today.
And a small thing I noticed was that New York is filmed in a gray blue type color while California is filmed in shades of orange. They also do their best to drive home how hot it is in Los Angeles to the point that it looks as if it’s occurring at the equator rather than in the United States.
One Eight Seven is a good movie but it is one that seems to be forgotten in Samuel L Jackson’s repertoire. It is a well scripted and well-acted story that overcomes any shortcomings it may have.