Mean Creek review by Mike Long

As a lifelong film fan, I've learned to take movie hype with a grain of salt -- especially when a film claims to be original, different, or groundbreaking. These films are usually anything but original and typically feel familiar and disappointing. So, why all of the hype about being original? What's wrong with making a solid film which doesn't necessarily bring anything new to the table, but does a fine job telling a story? Mean Creek may mirror some other movies, but it's a riveting film which deserves attention.

As Mean Creek opens, George (Josh Peck) sets up his video camera so as to record himself playing basketball at school. When curious Sam (Rory Culkin) stops to investigate the camera, George suddenly jumps him, assaulting Sam. We then learn that George has a history of explosive behavior and is disliked by many of his peers. When Sam's older brother Rocky (Trevor Morgan) learns of the attack, he tells his best friends Marty (Scott Mechlowicz) and Clyde (Ryan Kelley) and they form a plan for revenge, which Sam hesitantly approves. Rocky invites George to come on a boating trip with the group, under the pretense that it's Sam's birthday. Once on the river, the older boys plan to pull a humiliating prank on George. But, once the trip is under way, along with Millie (Carly Schroeder), a young girl who likes Sam, things go horribly wrong, and the adolescents must deal with a very distressing situation.

Mean Creek joins the legions of films like River's Edge, Better Luck Tomorrow, Thirteen, which portray a very frightening world in which teenagers experience incredibly tragic and harrowing situations. Of this genre, Mean Creek most resembles Larry Clark's Bully, although it's nowhere near as brutal as that film. As with these other films, Mean Creek takes place in a world where disenfranchised kids seemingly raise themselves, as interventions or guidance from adults are rare or non-existent. The kids are friends, but they clearly have no idea how to actually relate to one another, so most of their communications are through insults. The characters in Mean Creek aren't necessarily bad...well, most of them...but they are forced to follow their own sense of morals, which only leads to tragic results.

Writer/director Jacob Aaron Estes drops us into this world and from the first moments of the film begins to crank up the tension. Mean Creek does an excellent job of manipulating the audience and dictating our feelings. Once the plan is set in motion, a scant 11 minutes into the film, the audience has a pretty good idea that things are going to go wrong. And through the actions of the main characters, we have a fairly good idea of how we should feel about the proceedings. However, once the plan is set into action, things don't go exactly how the audience expected. The emotions of these scenes peak and ebb, making the film quite suspenseful. During the third act, Mean Creek becomes quite draining, as the revenge film becomes a morality play, and everyone watching the film will have their own personal feelings on what the teens should do.

This powerful storytelling gets a further boost from the great cast. While Macauly Culkin may have become a millionaire in the 90s, but Rory Culkin proves that he (and his brother Kieran) have the true talent in the family. Culkin is very good as the shy Sam, who's actions sets the entire story into motion. Scott Mechlowicz (last seen in Eurotrip...Scotty doesn't know...) is fantastic as the menacing Marty. Perhaps the best acting chops in the film come from Josh Peck, who portrays the multi-layered George. Also, given the fact that Mean Creek had an estimated budget of only $500,000, Estes and co. are able to get a great deal of impressive footage during the boating scenes. Mean Creek is by no means a happy film (actually, it could have used some levity), but it is certainly a powerful one.

Mean Creek floats onto DVD courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer has been enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The film was shot on Super 16mm film, but the transfer doesn't suffer for this fact. The image is very sharp and clear, showing only a touch of grain in some of the brighter shots. There are no visible defects from the source material. There are some shots which are overly bright, but otherwise things look good and the colors are warm and natural. There is some slight artifacting on the picture, but it's not distracting from the action. The DVD carries an adequate Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track, which provides clear and intelligible dialogue. However, we don't get much in the way of surround sound, save for the river sound effects, and there is basically no overt subwoofer action.

The Mean Creek DVD contains only two special features. The first is an audio commentary with writer/director Jacob Aaraon Estes, cinematographer Sharone Meir, editor Madeleine Gavin, and actors Josh Peck, Trevor Morgan, Ryan Kelley, and Carly Schroeder. This is an excellent commentary track as the group discusses many facets of the film's production. It's clear that they bonded while making the movie, as they share many anecdotes about specific scenes. The track is both informative and quite amusing at times. The other extra is a storyboard gallery.

7 out of 10 Jackasses

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