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THIRTEEN (article first published : 2004-02-28)

Thirteen is the winner of a directing award at last year's Sundance Film Festival. Catherine Hardwicke's intense and gripping drama about the horrors and hardships of teen years opens with a shocking scene of two young girls on a bed, sniffing from a can and urging each other to punch one another in the face because they are numbed to the pain of it.

The film closes as dramatically with a sequence which, unfolding on a kitchen floor and in a bedroom, is shot in icy blue and greys and makes for one of the most powerful screen scenes you'll see this year.

On the surface, Thirteen seems no different to any other teen angst drama, chronicling as it does the rapid disintegration of a 13-year-old from loving daughter and grade-A student to a real nasty piece of work.

The girl is Tracy (Evan Rachel Wood), product of a broken home, who lives with her siblings and recovering alcoholic mum, hairdresser Mel (Holly Hunter).

Tracy's ordered life takes a dramatic turn when, in a bid to wave adieu to being seen as a nerd, she manoeuvres her way to being noticed and befriended by the coolest chick at school, the extrovert and flirtatious Evie (Nikki Reed). But the road to ruin is around the corner as Tracy, elbowed on by the emotionally tarnished Evie, starts drinking and experimenting with sex and drugs, commits petty crimes and, in a rather disturbing scene, joins Evie in a bid to seduce an adult neighbour.

It leads to a dramatic and harrowing finale.

What lifts Hardwicke's film above the norm is that not only does it boast deft direction that pulls no punches, but it also has a terrific cast - both Hunter and Wood were Golden Globe nominees this year; and Hunter also has an Oscar nod.

Using hand-held cameras and never shying from gritty reality, Hardwicke perfectly showcases the dangers inherent in bowing to peer pressure and rebellion, deglamourising what, to most 13-year-olds, might initially seem cool and adventurous.

It's fascinating to note that Hardwicke co-penned the screenplay with young actress Nikki Reed, whose divorced father the director was dating.

Reed, who was 13 at the time the script was written, was evidently asked to reveal everything she and friends had done as a 13-year-old - making the events that unravel even more alarming.

Thirteen is an absorbing and thought-provoking film, one that will probably have anyone with a pubescent daughter or sister leaving the cinema with the thought of chaining the kid to her bedroom door forever lest she get in with the wrong crowd. Rating: 8/10. - Billy Suter




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