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After he was stabbed in the back at a tough, urban school in Brooklyn, Trevor Garfield (Samuel L. Jackson) comes back for more as a substitute teacher in Los Angeles. Managing to enrage the local gang in the first few minutes, Garfield sets off a chain reaction of violence and revenge that ends in a tragic showdown.
Ever since "Teachers," "The Principal," "High School High" and the recent "Dangerous Minds," it seems that an entire mythology has developed around the '90s urban high school; the graffiti, gang rituals, and guns go hand in hand with the total lack of respect for teachers. So little respect, in fact, that most of them are threatened, beaten, raped, stabbed and eventually murdered. It's a world that I—along with most of America—didn't inhabit, which makes comparisons among these movies hard to avoid. But this one stands out as the most horrifying, a haunting portrayal of an underworld absolutely beyond hope.
This movie takes no prisoners, avoids easy resolutions and is almost cathartically depressing. Samuel L. Jackson is terrific as the damaged Garfield, a shell of a man who continues to pursue his calling despite having lost all of his passion. The ending, a game of Russian Roulette straight out of "The Deer Hunter," is derivative, to be sure, but speaks volumes about the futility of trying to help a generation of kids without morality.
Director Kevin Reynolds has crafted a surreal world of blazing heat, paranoia and fear through a seamless use of focus and an amazing soundtrack. In the ultimate irony, the title of the movie refers to the LAPD's code for homicide—in a movie that has absolutely no police in it, let alone a moral structure. "187" is a worthwhile downer.
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