Thirteen review by Mike Long

I define the "drama" genre as a film, set in the past or present, which features realistic people dealing with realistic problems. (For example, Steven Soderbergh's Solaris has all of the trappings of a drama, but as it's set in space in the future, it must be considered science-fiction.) Given that, a very good drama can border on having a documentary-like feel, as the movie gives the impression that we are intruding on the lives of real people. The controversial Thirteen definitely falls into that category.

Tracy (Evan Rachel Wood) is a thirteen year-old girl who lives with her mother, Melanie (Holly Hunter) and her brother, Mason (Brady Corbet). Her parents are divorced, and Tracy rarely sees her father. Her mother makes ends meet by running a beauty parlor out of the home. Tracy is a fairly average girl who enjoys doing homework with her friends. But, as she starts 7th grade, Tracy begins to change. She notices the provocatively dressed popular girls and begins to hate her innocent, dowdy clothes. She focuses on Evie Zamora (Nikki Reed), a class-mate who acts much older than thirteen. Although Evie shuns Tracy at first, Tracy gets Evie's attention by committing a crime. The two then become close friends.

As the film progresses, Tracy and Evie become inseparable, as Evie begins to negatively influence Tracy. Tracy gets piercings, begins drinking and using drugs, and shirks her homework. As her behavior becomes more outrageous, and her clothes get more scandalous, the relationship between Tracy and Melanie becomes very tenuous. Melanie is a recovering addict and Tracy's rebelliousness begins to push her to the edge. Despite the fact that everyone around her can see the danger that she's in, Tracy continues to spiral out of control.

Former production designer Catherine Hardwicke (Vanilla Sky, Three Kings) does a fantastic job with her directorial debut. She keeps Thirteen moving along at a break-neck pace and her constant use of hand-held camera gives the film that documentary feel. (Although, there were some unmotivated zooms that I could've done without.) The use of color during the final act is also very impressive, showing a sense of style that many seasoned directors don't possess. Hardwicke's direction is only enhanced by the fantastic cast of the film. Wood gives a power-house performance as Tracy, and shows great maturity as she takes the character through a total metamorphosis. Reed (who co-wrote the film) is equally good as the trashy, manipulative Evie. Holly Hunter deserves an award nod for her performance as the desperate Melanie. Jeremy Sisto has a nice small role as Melanie’s boyfriend. These actors, combined with Hardwicke’s style, add to Thirteen‘s edge.

The problem with Thirteen lies in the film’s story. The film’s extreme nature is too extreme at times. Yes, there are girls like Tracy and Evie in the world, but Thirteen shows the most extreme nature of adolescent rebellion and at times, it’s too much. In addition, every character in the film is dysfunctional in some sense, and it’s hard for the audience to latch on to anyone. As I watched Thirteen, I was certainly engrossed in the story, but I couldn’t shake the sense that I’d seen it all before. If you’ve seen any “good kids go bad” movie, then much of Thirteen will feel familiar. And, in the wake of films such as Kids and Bully, Thirteen really isn’t all that shocking. Still, this is one of the best examples of the genre. Thirteen isn’t perfect, but it demonstrates how combined talents can overcome budgetary restrictions.

Thirteen slams its bedroom door onto DVD courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The DVD contains both the full-frame and widescreen versions of the film. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was screened. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is sharp and clear, showing very little grain. The movie’s colors look fantastic, which helps to make the color-shift in the finale even more jarring. There are some subtle examples of artifacting issues, but these aren’t distracting. The DVD’s Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track provides clear dialogue and excellent music reproduction. The stereo effects are good, showing off a nice sound field, but the surround effects are mainly limited to musical cues.

The DVD contains a few extras. We start with an audio commentary featuring director/co-writer Catherine Hardwicke, and actors Evan Rachel Wood, Nikki Reed (also co-writer), and Brady Corbet. This is a fun commentary and it’s clear that this group really bonded while making the movie. They discuss the film’s production and how they worked around the low budget and the fact that the kids could only work a few hours a day. This commentary offers much more information than the 6-minute “Making of Thirteen“ featurette, which is more like a press-kit, as it gives us only sparse comments from the director and cast. There are 10 deleted scenes on the DVD (with a “Play All”) feature, which can be viewed with or without comments from Hardwicke. Eight of these scenes merely show extra footage from scenes in the finished film, but three, which show Tracy with her former friends, an early visit from Tracy’s dad, and Evie shunning one of Tracy’s old friends, are worth watching. Finally, we have the original trailer for Thirteen, which is letterboxed at 1.85:1.

7 out of 10 Jackasses

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