2004 - R - 89 Mins.
|Director: Jacob Aaron Estes|
|Producer: Susan Johnson|
|Written By: Jacob Aaron Estes|
|Starring: Rory Culkin, Scott Mechlowicz, Trevor Morgan, Josh Peck |
|Review by: Harrison Cheung
A powerful debut feature from writer/director Jacob Aaron Estes, ‘Mean Creek’ is a triumph of storytelling and pitch-perfect casting. Estes won the Humanitas Prize for ‘Mean Creek’, an award that recognizes work, which communicates and encourages human values. It’s an apt award for an intimate film that paints a very realistic picture about ethics, morals and consequence.
Larry Clark seemed to have the “kids gone wild” genre sewn up with his bleak and nihilistic ‘Kids,’ ‘Bully’ and the notorious 'Ken Park.' In fact, ‘Mean Creek’ bears some resemblance to ‘Bully’ but where Clark’s characters are shallow, materialistic thugs, the kids in ‘Mean Creek’ are sympathetic and realistic portraits of likable teens.
In a small town high school in Oregon, 13-year old Sam (Rory Culkin) is tired of being beat up by school bully George (Josh Peck). He and his older brother Rocky (Trevor Morgan) scheme their revenge. Rocky and his best friend, Marty (Scott Mechlowicz) decide to invite George to a Saturday outing on a boat, ostensibly for Sam’s birthday. The plan? To humiliate George with some forced skinny-dipping.
On the day of their boating trip, the kids are surprised to learn that George, though obnoxious and abusive, has a human side. He’s funny, he has learning disabilities (which may account for his brutishness) and yet he seems eager to make friends. When George shows up with an expensive birthday gift, you can see how puzzled Sam is – is the school bully actually an okay guy? Not ready to sentence George to extreme humiliation, Sam tries to call off the revenge attack but something happens on the river that triggers a chain of events. The kids soon have to deal with the unexpected consequences of their actions.
‘Mean Creek’s strongest assets are its intelligent, full-blooded script and its wonderful young cast. Rory Culkin (‘Signs’) portrays a very thoughtful Sam. He’s the conscience of the story, constantly asking his brother about the appropriateness of their revenge plan to the point where he’s nicknamed the junior Gandhi. As the youngest of the Culkin brothers, Rory Culkin is making his mark with sensitive, nuanced performances.
Josh Peck is enormously believable as George. Balancing a fine line between obnoxious bully and misunderstood lonely boy, he’s incredibly fluid, flashing a temper that easily boils over into provocatively offensive behavior. It’s that volatility that becomes George’s downfall in the film’s most riveting scene.
And stealing the movie is Scott Mechlowicz as Marty. Mechlowicz’s soft spoken charisma was one of the redeeming factors in this year’s earlier teen romp, ‘Eurotrip.’ As the pivotal Marty, he creates a complex young man who envies his best friend’s brotherly love because his own older brother is abusive and his family life is anything but normal. When Rocky argues that they need to call off their revenge plans, Marty bites back that older brothers should look out for their siblings. It’s clear that Marty has a world of hurt just below the surface that’s ready to explode.
With Estes' indelible cast of characters, the journey down the river becomes increasingly skittery as George amps up his repugnant behavior. By the time George is spitting mad with outrage, that little boat becomes the most dangerous place in the world.
‘Mean Creek’ may be one of the best films I’ve seen this year. It’s an intelligent and provocative piece for people of any age to ponder what drives us to anger and how we’d react to crisis.