Mean Creek (2004)

28 Mar

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Mean Creek” is a powerful, disturbingly effective film about how even the smallest thing leads to big magnitude, and how it’s dealt with. It’s also about troubled kids who feel alienated and are soon dealt with the biggest crisis of their lives. Now, they have to deal with it. It reminded me of “River’s Edge,” in which burnout teenagers had to deal with the fact that one of their own killed another one of their own. They were told by their leader not to tell anyone, but how could they not? In “Mean Creek,” it shows kids who all have problems and it also shows that every action comes with a consequence.

As the movie opens, a nice kid named Sam (Rory Culkin, Macaulay’s youngest brother) is beat up by a schoolyard bully named George (Josh Peck), a bipolar kid who has been left back in school because of a learning disability. Sam’s brother Rocky (Trevor Morgan), who smokes weed and drinks a lot as a way of escaping his own insecurities (that’s what I believe, anyway), decides to teach George a lesson in ultimate humiliation. Sam decides to go with it as long as they “hurt him without really hurting him.” Rocky enlists the aid of his two best friends. One is Clyde (Ryan Kelley), who resents the fact that he lives with gay fathers. Another is Marty (Scott Mechlowicz), who lives with his abusive brother who lets out his anger on him whenever their late suicidal father is mentioned. So now, Marty is aching to take out his own anger on George.

The boys invite George to a seemingly harmless boat ride—Sam pretends to make amends by inviting him to his “birthday party” and then the others are going to pull a practical joke on him. So Sam, Rocky, Clyde, Marty, George, and Sam’s girlfriend Millie (Carly Schroeder) head upriver but the unusual thing is that George is acting kind of friendly. Sam, Millie, Rocky, and Clyde see that George isn’t such a bad guy after all, but that he’s just lonely and wants friends. They decide to call off the plan, but Marty is determined to move forward. He wants to create pain and misery for George and when he finally tells George the plan, it leads to a big tragedy.

You probably already know what is going to happen already. “Mean Creek” is not a thriller and there aren’t any surprises either. This is pure drama happening here, and after that climax, the final half of the movie shows how the kids deal with it. They talk about it, they discuss it, they predict the possibilities of what will happen if they tell or not, and they all regret their actions. Their lives will never be the same again. The final half is excellent because it’s just so chilling and so convincing and deeply moving.

“Mean Creek” mainly a dramatic character piece. It doesn’t go over the top; it feels real. The six young actors playing the kids are all credible. There are no weak elements to their performances and there’s no sense of miscasting. Rory Culkin is good as the early teenager who is involved with a huge situation. Josh Peck is brilliant as the troubled fat kid willing to let out some anger on the kid—there are many levels to Peck’s performance. Scott Mechlowicz is chillingly convincing as the tough guy who soon becomes the leader of the group and makes the decision of not telling the authorities about that terrible day. Trevor Morgan, Ryan Kelley, and Carlie Schroeder deliver strong work as well.

“Mean Creek” is the writing/directing debut for Jacob Aaron Estes and he makes a wise choice of keeping his classic camera movements and angles to a basic minimum. He doesn’t direct it like a big-shot mob-movie director. He lets his own script do the work and that’s the right move for this film.

NOTE: This movie is deservedly rated R by the MPAA for violence, profanity, teen drug use, and teen alcohol use. There is one scene in particular that shows young Peck use the f-word practically a hundred times in one scene. This movie isn’t for everybody, especially those who are fans of Nickelodeon’s “Drake and Josh.” But I kid.

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