Reviewed by: David Peterson
One eight seven. The police code for homicide—and an apt title for this hard-hitting drama.
The story begins with Mr. Garfield, a New York high school science teacher (Samuel L. Jackson) being brutally and repeatedly stabbed after flunking a gang member in his class.
Fifteen months later, having survived the attack, Garfield has moved to California and is substitute teaching. He receives a call to work at a particularly violent high school. Praying before he leaves for his first day at work, he asks God to help him do what he must do, what he has been “put on this Earth to do”—to teach the kids.
After dealing with numerous thefts, vandalism and other personal threats, the dedicated and talented teacher reveals that he is “human after all.” He can only take so much.
First, a particularly vicious student, Benny, disappears after threatening more than one teacher. Later he is found dead, supposedly from an overdose, but suspicions are rising about Mr. Garfield.
Then when threatened by Cesar (another gang member) during school, Garfield hunts him down and tranquilizes him. While he is asleep he cuts off his trigger finger (presumably since he had threatened to shoot Garfield)!
Since none of these acts of violence are actually shown being committed, the viewer is left guessing as to whether or not Garfield actually did it. Ultimately, the gang members seek revenge and the movie ends in a particularly pointless game of Russian roulette between Cesar and Garfield.
This is not your typical “super teacher in a tough school” movie. While it does portray the terrible realities of many big city schools (gangs, murder, rape, drugs, etc.) it does so without really having a point. The teachers themselves, driven by their fear, are “forced” to resort to killing and mutilating students? Seems like a strange solution to me.
The film contains many profanities and a scene of female nudity. In addition, the scenes of anger and violence depicted in the film while not exceedingly graphic, are very disturbing in their intensity.
This is definitely a film to avoid.