The Culkin brothers continue their trend of starring in quality independent films with "Mean Creek," a morality tale about the lengths you would go to get revenge and what you would do if you achieved those lengths. This time, it's young Rory Culkin, best known for "Signs," who has the lead spot among a cast of teenagers, or at least people who are playing teenagers.
"Mean Creek" is about a group of kids, some younger, some older, who set out on a day-long boat trip down a peaceful river. However, their motives are anything but sincere. Sam (Culkin) has invited his arch nemesis, George (Josh Peck), a bully who has been beating up others in his class for years, along for the ride. He, his brother (Trever Morgan) and his brother's friends (Ryan Kelley and Scott Mechlowicz) are scheming to humiliate George once and for all, but things do not go as planned. A horrible accident forces the kids to make some tough decisions, and forces them to grow up in one, horrifying moment.
Movies like this have been done before, but there is just something breathtaking about the concept that allows filmmakers to come back to the same idea over and over again. What would you do if something like this happened? Would you try to cover it up, or would you be honest? How could you go on living after such a thing? What would it do to your childhood?
"Mean Creek" is a riveting little film that features powerful performances from all those involved and engages the audience at a deep level. The movie does lag in a few parts even though it's only 89 minutes long, but its slow and steady build up to the inevitable, and the tough circumstances that follow, are enough to make your hair stand on end. Of course, what's really frustrating about the movie is, once again, the characters make really stupid decisions that only help dig them deeper into trouble, but "Mean Creek" handles it acceptably. The movie perhaps takes their decisions to the extreme, but then again these kinds of movies often do.
Culkin is showing the same, positive trend as brother Kieran has been showing in terms of film choices, as both actors have been choosing smaller, darker films that should ease them into more adult roles (unlike Macaulay, who has never been able to shrug off his "Home Alone" stigma). Of course, they probably have the same agent. In addition, kudos should go to Carly Schroeder for delivering a strong and believable voice of reason, and also Josh Peck for playing his bully part to perfection. Both he and the screenplay depict the complications of bullies so well, developing the character to a point where we realize his abrasive nature is only a cover for his shortcomings. Peck makes us, and most of his fellow characters, care for him, even when he snaps back into bully mode.
"Mean Creek" is an extraordinary little movie. It doesn't set any new benchmarks, but does provide a launching pad for what hopefully will be a starting point for all of these young actors' careers.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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