(1989)3Mike DiBellaMorgan Freeman's first big starring role as real-life no-nonsense principal Joe Clark, a man who revitalized a Paterson, New Jersey, school of miscreants, seemed tailor-made for the veteran actor. A tightly woven, uplifting story that tugs at the heartstrings Lean on Me is powered by Freeman's tour de force performance. Director John Avildsen does a nice job of capturing a sense of urban decay by giving the picture a dark, gritty feel, and the film is further strengthened by its young cast, many of whom would go on to bigger and better projects (Michael Imperioli, for example, enjoyed later success in HBO's The Sopranos). Freeman, however, is truly the heart and soul of this picture, and his work in it would serve to open all of Hollywood's eyes to his often under-appreciated talents. While Lean on Me is a pleasant human interest story and well-made film, it will largely be remembered as the picture that helped to herald Freeman's arrival as a major player on the big screen.