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Wednesday, June 10, 2009


I had a problem with THE EDUCATION OF CHARLIE BANKS right off the bat, namely that it was directed by Fred Durst. Why the heck should I want to waste my time watching some lame flick by the frontman for Limp Bizkit? Fortunately, though, this feeling began to fade as soon as it became clear that the guy knows what he's doing behind the camera. His direction is sharp, unobtrusive, and efficient. He gets style points for coming up with an impressive shot now and then, such as the long take in the party scene early on. And he doesn't make his camera guys dance around like they have to pee really bad. So, Durst is good--no problem there.

After a brief New York prologue in which nerdy Charlie Banks (Jesse Eisenberg) secretly rats to the cops on neighborhood tough guy Mick Leary (Jason Ritter) for almost killing a couple of guys at a party, we get transported to a nice ivy-covered university campus somewhere in Rhode Island. It's here that Charlie and his childhood buddy Danny (Chris Marquette) are going about their lives as studious dorm mates, when suddenly Mick shows up looking for a place to lay low for a few days.

Charlie, worried that this brawny, unstable mook might smell a rat, finds Mick's presence even more unpleasant when he starts moving in on the girl of his dreams, Mary (Eva Amurri), and she responds to Mick's bad-boy charms. Making things worse is the fact that Mick hates rich kids, and of course Charlie and Danny have just started hanging out with the poster boy for the idle rich, Leo (Sebastian Stan), who thinks it's fun to spend 200 grand on a small yacht so that they can all play pirates.

Thus, we wait on pins and needles for this volatile situation to erupt into shocking and needless violence, which, of course, it eventually does, just as Charlie and Mary very obviously foreshadow while discussing "The Great Gatsby." Until then, we observe Mick interacting with these normal college kids and try to understand what makes Mick tick. We know he's had a rough upbringing--"no father, sketchy mother" as the police describe it--and that he's got a serious anger management problem. When we first see him back in New York he's admired by the other guys and fawned over by the girls, but only for his ability to cripple anyone who crosses him.

The sad thing is, he can be a pretty charming guy when he isn't enraged. Not only does he seem to yearn to fit in with Charlie's wealthy, intelligent friends, but he apparently wants to be friends with normal, nerdy Charlie. During all of this, though, he's like a wolf palling around with a flock of sheep, and Charlie knows it as well as we do.

Jason Ritter wisely plays Mick without the standard tough-guy act, which makes the character a lot more interesting and unpredictable. The movie takes place in the 70s and 80s, and the first time we see him he looks more like he just stepped off the disco floor than out of an alleyway. Later he adopts the preppy look after Leo gives him some of his old clothes. Ritter is good at conveying Mick's hair-trigger demeanor and keeping us on edge every time a drunken Leo gets too annoying or a romantic encounter with Mary starts to get too physical. Jesse Eisenberg, who reminds me a little of a young Mike Kellin, is also very good as Charlie, and the rest of the cast does a great job with their characters as well.

The DVD from Anchor Bay Entertainment is 1.78: 1 anamorphic widescreen with 5.1 and 2.0 Dolby Digital sound. Subtitles are available in both English for the hearing-impaired and Spanish. There's an interview featurette, "Conversations Behind 'The Education of Charlie Banks'", and a commentary track featuring Durst and Ritter, which is interesting although they sometimes have a little trouble articulating what they want to say.

Much of the movie is about Mick's efforts to be a part of this group of people for whom he also feels a deep-seated resentment. It's sad that under different circumstances, he might very well have been a bright college student with a future instead of a blunt instrument with a bad attitude. Charlie's education, thanks to Mick, is a tortured process of dealing with complex emotions and relationships, and doing the right thing despite grave risks. THE EDUCATION OF CHARLIE BANKS is a mature work that bodes well for everyone involved--especially Fred Durst, who doesn't just have to be that guy from Limp Bizkit anymore.

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