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MEAN CREEK (article first published : 2005-08-7)

Think Deliverance and Stand By Me, even Lord of the Flies, and you have some idea of what to expect from Mean Creek, an absorbing and disturbing new drama from novice writer-director Jacob Aaron Estes, a fascinating film about friendship, rivalry, loyalty, responsibility and morals.

Filled with well-defined and credible teen characters, Mean Creek offers a solid story, realistic dialogue, deft direction and excellent acting from a terrific, little-known ensemble cast, making it one of the best films of the year.

It tells of Sam (Rory Culkin), a bright loner who feels the physical might of chubby school bully George (Joshua Peck). With elbowing from his older teen brother, Rocky (Trevor Morgan), and Rocky's friends, Marty (Scott Mechlowicz, seen in Eurotrip) and Clyde (Ryan Kelley), Sam is persuaded to take revenge.

The plan is to humiliate arrogant George during a boat trip on the river that snakes through the woods fringing their small Oregon town.

Rocky convinces the bully that it is Sam's birthday outing and that Sam wants George there so they can patch up their differences and become pals. Also tagging along is Sam's unwitting, wannabe girlfriend, Millie (Carly Schroeder).

However, when uncouth George arrives with an impressive gift for Sam and, through his loudness and social awkwardness, slowly starts to reveal himself as someone sad and misunderstood, with a very real problem, Sam starts to feel sorry for him, as do Millie and, after some convincing, Rocky.

Weedy Clyde, oft teased for coming from an unconventional family and who George attacked with a baseball bat some time before, is not moved, however. And tough and troubled, broody and unpredictable Marty, a guy from the wrong side of the tracks, who is continually victimised by his older brother and sees rich kid George as a surrogate for unleashing his anger, is even more determined there will be no change in the plan.

It's while this debate rages in whispers behind George's back that an unplanned event takes place. This leads to a tragedy that has the group suddenly faced with a dilemma that sees the youngsters wracked with guilt, fear and indecision as they are forced to face their first real moral dilemma and take their first tentative steps towards adulthood.

A fascinating, slow-burning, intense morality tale, told simply and without preaching, Mean Creek is gripping drama that probes deeply into the teenage psyche. It should not to be missed! Rating: 9/10. - Billy Suter




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