Mean Creek

Mean Creek

At times Mean Creek is a painful film to watch
since it will remind you of times in your own life

Mean Creek

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Unfortunately, one of the inevitable rites of passage is learning to deal with a bully. There is always some kid in the school yard that in an attempt to act tough before his peers will pick on the socially disenfranchised or weaker child.

There have been many films that have delved into this theme, Larry Clark’s Bully and Rob Reiner’s Stand By Me come immediately to mind. Jacob Aaron Estes now enters the fray with his Mean Creek. Sam (Rory Culkin) has two of the primary attributes that bullies look for, he is smaller than other kids his age and he is very bright. This places the proverbial target on his back for local bully George (Josh Peck). He is on the surface the prototypical bully; big, older due to several times being left back and emotionally in need of feeling in control. When Sam relates the tale of his latest beating to his brother Rocky (Trevor Morgan) the older brother convinces the hapless Sam that something has to be done to George, the bully has to be humiliated. Along with Sam’s friends, Marty (Scott Mechlowicz), Clyde (Ryan Kelley) and Millie (Carly Schroeder) the plan to lure George to the creek, get him to skinny dip and row away with his clothes. While not as drastic as the murder plot in Bully, the effect is fundamentally the same, teen aged revenge. What sets this film somewhat above some in its genre is that during the trip the conversation reveals much about the actual motivation of the bully. The story is a well written and balanced view of this teenage world that most of us as adults have all but forgotten. We might remember the incidents but the emotional impact the events had in the moment are forced to the surface here.

It’s the interaction of this social group that drives this film. Each of the teenagers in Mean Creek is fully fleshed out individuals. Rocky feels that he has already peaked in life, that at his still tender years it’s all downhill from here. He was the first in his group to smoke, drink and have a sexual experience. He has to continue to impress his younger sibling and his friends in order to justify himself. Marty tries to prove his maturity in the typical high school fashion, he smokes and drinks in an attempt to cover what he feels after the suicide of his father. Marty has to be the one in charge and here suggests a game of truth or dare, the consequences resulting in the revelation of sexual and embarrassing facts about the loser for the round. Clyde faces the social stigma of being raised by his homosexual father and his partner. Millie is on the cusp of transcending from Sam’s friend to his girl friend, once all the confusion of teenage hormonally driven confusion is settled that is. The day the plot is to unfold is actually the first date for the pair, Sam at first attempts to hide the fact from her. Under the thin guise of justice the plot unfolds but as George opens to the group doubts are planted. One thing teenagers are not known for is backing down in front of their peers which results in the drama Mean Creek holds.

For a movie that requires some an emotional investment on the part of the audience the casting is vital. This is especially true when the cast is young as required in Mean Creek. Fortunately, the casting directory was in rare form and assembled a group of young actors that where more than up to the task. Rory Culkin is the youngest of seven children, most of whom are actors. He joins brothers Macaulay and Kieran in recent excellent performances. Culkin has the ability to get the audience to care almost immediately, he posses a control and maturity far beyond his years. Josh Peck, who first hit the small screen in the Amanda Show on Nickelodeon, has developed his stage presence very nicely. In Mean Creek he shows us the other side of the equation, the viewpoint of the bully, his motivation and own emotional baggage. Another Nickelodeon alum, Carly Schroeder adds a lot to the presentation of Mean Creek. She is the vision of innocence, not only because she is unaware of the plans but just as part of her nature. Schroeder plays Millie as a young girl that just wants her first date, an important milestone for any girl, and finds herself as the moral compass for the group. Scott Mechlowicz is able to make us believe him as the controlling Marty. He has to drive the action, a lot for a performer that was in Euro Trip but Mechlowicz is up to the challenge. This is a group of young actors to watch as they mature in their craft.

Mean Creek is the first feature length film for writer/director Jacob Aaron Estes. While there are many such novices presenting films Estes has talent that sets him above many of his contemporaries. With Mean Creek he gives us a view back in time to events that while me might not have exactly experienced we can immediately relate to. For most of us, the victims of bullies we all certainly wished for revenge. For the former bullies watching they can identify with the plight of George. Estes chose well for his DP. Director of photography Sharone Meir uses a handheld camera and only natural light to heighten the realism of Mean Creek. Mean Creek comes across in an almost documentary style, a realistic view of some painful moments in that transitional time between childhood and being an adult.

The Mean Creek DVD from Paramount is excellent. The anamorphic 1.85:1 video perfectly reflects what the director intended. While grainy at times and unevenly lit due to the insistence of natural light this is part of what makes Mean Creek work as well as it does. The Dolby 5.1 audio is somewhat front heavy with the rear speakers being used mostly for ambience. The extra provided is a commentary track by the director. Instead of constantly patting himself on the back as so many first timers do Estes goes into what motivated him to create Mean Creek and the decisions required to bring it to the screen. At times Mean Creek is a painful film to watch since it will remind you of times in your own life but Mean Creek is well done and worth adding to any serious collection.

Movie Review of Mean Creek by Doug MacLean of

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