Directed and written by Ryan Koo, Netflix Original Amateur is the story of a young aspiring basketball player desperate to move up the ranks, who transfers school to join a sports programme. Starring Michael Rainey Jr., Brian White and Josh Charles, the sports drama was released globally on April 6, 2018 on Netflix.
Sports dramas are so simple to consume because of the predictable ingredients for the story set-up; an underdog, an objective, and surrounding life challenges. Since the day I can remember, I have always savoured stories within this genre. They usually provide adrenaline-pumping moments that move you from your chair and make you feel sadly ridiculous. In the case of Netflix Original Amateur, it is no Rocky, Warrior or Moneyball but it is slightly engaging.
Amateur doesn’t reach the heights of those sports dramas before it because, despite an objective and a genuine cause of concern for the leading character, there is no solid moment where you question his ability to buckle under pressure and, on the flipside, there is no euphoric moment where you know he has achieved what he has set out to do. The opening highlights his gifted skills at basketball immediately; the kid is good, but then that removes the novelty for the audience to feel any tension whatsoever. Not all sports films have to make you feel something in those moments; it’s not a rule, but then it kind of makes those moments missable. Unfortunately, Amateur forgets to tell you how great basketball can be.
The 14-year-old kid that can make magic happen on the court is Terron Forte (Michael Rainey Jr.), whose parents are just about making the living wage. Terron is number blind, which is a plot point for a large part of the movie. I guess his condition is important, however, it is kind of overshadowed by the basketball programme he is on, where he is not required to attend classes for some corrupt reasoning. Of course, it is a downfall in terms of knowing how much time is left in the quarter, but there is no strong, demonstrable moment where it could have allowed his ambitious career to falter. His basketball friends are older than him, so there is a scenario where the age gap allows him to be bullied but again, it does not feel important enough to question his character. Amateur is written in simple terms that gives no certain plot point importance over another.
What is important, and where I feel Amateur excels, are the general themes surrounding Terron’s life. Does he trust his all-promising coach; does he take guidance from his often disruptive but supportive father or does he try and go it alone without both of them? The Netflix Original sells the coming-of-age story but also the brutality of trying to make it as a professional. The question posed is: who do you trust and what are you willing to do in order to get there?
If the theme remained strong throughout, then Terron’s coming-of-age would have felt much more impactful but unfortunately, this is quite the wafer-thin plot, with not one applause-worthy performance. The one character I was curious about, and whose name made me chortle slightly is Coach Gaines (Josh Charles) because you are left at arm’s length trying to figure out his true intentions.
In the end, you have a story about a kid trying to make it into basketball, and regardless of the events surrounding this objective, that is all it is. Netflix Original Amateur is worth the shot but there is no memorable moment, no slam dunk.