'Life of a King': How Chess Taught a Convict to 'Think Before He Moves'

Life of a King
Millennium Entertainment

The game of chess reflects the game of life in this moving biopic starring Cuba Gooding Jr. as a bank robber turned who found redemption on a board.

Life of a King is a sports film about a game that rarely hits movie screens.

The film, which opens Friday, tells the true story of Eugene Brown (Cuba Gooding Jr.), who after a troubled childhood and a misspent youth was busted for bank robbery at age 20 and sentenced to 18 years in prison.  At Trenton State Penitentiary in New Jersey, Brown began wiling the hours away with chess, learning that the civilized and highly controlled game teaches you a lot about the laws of life, reveals screenwriter Dan Wetzel

"Think before you move, always protect the king, and don't make rushed decisions," Wetzel tells The Hollywood Reporter. "The major benefit of chess is learning the skill of concentration -- it can make you focus and grow in incredible ways," he added.

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After his release, Brown went on to help inner city kids by opening The Big Chair Chess Club in Washington D.C. 

Wetzel, a writer and columnist for Yahoo! Sports, first heard about Brown's journey 11 years ago while interviewing a local basketball coach. Intrigued, he tracked Brown down, eventually building the project with screenwriting partner David Scott, producer Jim Young and director Jake Goldberger. Alongside Gooding, the film features Denis Haysbert 24) and Lisa Gay Hamilton

"You hear this story and you just want to tell it - it is a message that needed to be heard, either in print or on the screen," Wetzel tells THR

"It might not break any box office records but it is a good story about a good guy with a good message. These are the kinds of movies people really like because it is such an uplifting tale about a man who turned himself around and hopes to do the same for other people by teaching them how to play chess," he said, adding that one of the glories of the game is anyone can play -- from a five-year-old child to a grand master.

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Currently opening a second chess house in Charlotte, N.C., Brown is now teaching the rules of the royal game to both underprivileged kids and everyday high school students who are eager to learn. 

"This is a guy who sat in a prison cell for 18 years and vowed to change his life. I am sure he never believed there would one day be a movie made about him. He went into prison an immature youth robbing banks, which is not a smart crime - he got caught because he took a taxi from a job for goodness sake!" revealed Wetzel. "And now he is being portrayed by an Oscar winner."

After making its debut at the 2013 Los Angeles Film Festival, Life of a King opens in select cities on Friday, Jan. 17.