Lean on Me Movie Review

Lean on Me

A true story about a real hero.
Lean on Me Picture
Joe Clark looks in dismay at what Eastside has become...


Morgan Freeman, Beverly Todd, Robert Guillaume, Alan North

Lynne Thigpen, Robin Bartlett, Michael Beach, Ethan Phillips, Sandra Reaves-Phillips, Sloane Shelton, Jermaine 'Huggy' Hopkins, Karen Malina White, Karina Arroyave, Ivonne Coll, Regina Taylor, Michael P. Moran, John Ring, Tyrone Jackson, Alex Romaguera, Tony Todd Update Cast

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There seem to be some differences between what happened in real life and how the director, John G. Avildsen, portrayed Joe Clark's crusade on screen.

In the movie Clark was able to raise the student test scores to a level that protected the school from being taken over by the state. In real life, Eastside High was never under threat of a take over. Clark has claimed that during his first year as principal he doubled the test scores of the students, but according to the Education Digest, 1989, there is no such evidence to support Clark’s claim of this.

In fact, according to this article, the scores of the students at Eastside High were the lowest in the state of New Jersey between the years of 1986 to 1988. It goes on to say that over these years the percentage of students who actually did pass was as low as 24.1.

The author of this article, Irwin Hyman, tries to uncover if the "Dirty Harry" tactics used by Clark are needed in situations like these. These stricter punishment strategies used by Clark were recognized and supported by President Reagan.

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Lean On Me is based on a true story of a principal in Eastside High, a multicultural school in New Jersey and is directed by "Karate Kid" director John G. Avildsen.

Mr. Joe Louis Clark (Morgan Freeman), is an assertive, strong willed teacher who takes pride in his work and his school. Due to unexpected school board budget cuts, Mr. Clark is forced to make decisions about his future at Eastside High. He leaves and goes to an elementary school.

Eastside High subsequently takes an unexpected turn for the worst. Joe is re-hired after almost 20 years in 1983 to run what is now one of the worst schools in the state.

Rather than being a place of security and a place to get an education, Eastside High was now a place where you can get killed and are forced to learn the lessons of life on the streets. The students lacked any respect for the school, the other students or the attempts to educate them.

Joe Clark's mission was to turn this crime, drug and graffiti infested school around completely, in just one years time. Clark must bring order and peace to his former school and must also bring up the learning level of the students so they can pass the state's "minimum basic skills test".

Joe Clark, a former Army drill instructor, realises that he must use tough discipline as a means of changing Eastside High School.

His methods in doing so were very controversial. The press gave him the nickname of "Crazy Joe" Clark for his use of the bullhorn and a baseball bat within his school to enforce order amongst the hoodlum students -and some would say, other members of the faculty.

To his supporters, this tactic was to be motivation for the students and teachers to do better. According to a Mississippi State University Memo dated back in March of 1996, within two years Eastside High was declared a model school by New Jersey’s governor and in 1986, Clark was named one of the nation’s 10 "Principals of Leadership".

One of the first things Joe Clark did to reform this school was expelling 300 minority students who he claimed were "educationally hopeless underachievers, parasites, hoodlums and drug pushers"

To make sure these, now ex-students, stayed out and could not return to cause trouble and peddle their drugs, Clark chained and locked the school doors and emergency exits from the inside.

Clark demanded and won respect from not only his students but also from his colleagues in the facility. If respect was not given, Clark simply removed the offender from the school!

Besides the changes in security, Mr. Clark directs a change in attitude among his students. He wants his students to take pride in their school, in themselves and in their education.

He even forces them to learn the school song and if they don’t, they get detention and in detention they paint away all of the graffiti that destroys the Eastside halls. He wants the students to do the work so they take pride in the school because they have helped to make it what it is. He gets to know all of his students and helps to get their lives on track.

Mr. Clark’s students are faced with many challenges, both academic and social. He is challenged with the academic problems that his students are facing. The students of Eastside high cannot pass the minimum basic skills test. He turns to his dedicated and intimidated staff to raise his students to victory. His hard-nosed attitude is a lot for his staff to handle but because of their dedication they are the basis for the changes in test scores.

Morgan Freeman has said that this film was intended to evoke a reaction and raise awareness of what it’s really like in some inner city schools. By using the media of film, "Lean On Me" has far surpassed any anticipation that it had of getting a message across to the public and done more good for the school systems than ever imagined...

Author: NickUpdate This Review


This wonderful movie is a great display of man verses society, man verses self and man verses man.

The movie made such an impact on audiences that it is taught in many film classes across the county and his speeches on discipline are put into practice in many schools around the world.

Awesome acting. Real life drama.
No negatives at all.

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The Movie Data

Key Crew

Director: John G. Avildsen
Writer: Michael Schiffer
Producers: John G. Avildsen, Michael Schiffer, Doug Seelig, Norman Twain
Locations Manager: David Ticotin

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Release Date: 03 Mar 1989
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Studio: Warner Bros.
Production: Warner Bros. Pictures
Genre: Drama

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The Movie Trailer
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1989 Warner Bros.
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