Mean Creek (2004)

DVD Cover (Paramount)
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Teenagers living in small-town Oregon take a boat trip for a birthday celebration. When they get an idea to play a mean trick on the town bully, it suddenly goes too far. Soon they're forced to deal with the unexpected consequences of their actions. --TMDb
Rory Culkin
Rory Culkin
Ryan Kelley
Ryan Kelley
Scott Mechlowicz
Scott Mechlowicz
Trevor Morgan
Trevor Morgan
Josh Peck
Josh Peck
Review by Chad
Added: July 09, 2006
You know, I read Mr. Meanie's review on this very page, and I thought that while the description of the movie didn't sound like my normal cup of tea, it did sound interesting. Then, two comments came from other viewers who backed him up in his opinion of it being a top-notch film, so I decided to check into it. Netflix was full of glowing reviews, so I figured that this must be a pretty riveting film and into my queue it went. Now, after watching the film, I have to wonder: did I watch the same movie as everyone else?

Before getting into my thoughts on this movie, I'd like to point out that the things I'm going to gripe about deal with the events that took place towards the end of the movie, and as such, this review is going to be full of spoilers. If you haven't seen it, you may want to skip over this review; the review below mine contains everything that you need to know about the storyline behind this movie and its presented in a non-spoiler fashion, and I actually agree with a lot of what he says save for the final rating.

Now then, my main problem with the movie was the ending and how it was handled, but before getting into that, I'd like to mention the way that the film was shot. The movie seemed to have an hour worth of material at best, but it set out to pad the running time to ninety minutes so as to be a "normal" feature film. Instead of showing us the characters and letting us both hear and see what's going on, director Jacob Aaron Estes insists on showing reaction shots after damned near every scene. This happens mostly towards the end when the group is down to five members, and it was cute the first couple of times, but it got really old, really quick. The five will be talking, and after they've discussed the topic at hand for a minute or two, the camera lingers on the first person's face as they stare off into space, and then we see the next person, and so on down the line. Doing this once or twice is important to show how the group members are reacting to the events taking place, but doing this after every goddamned scene ruined the effect.

We're also "treated" to shot after shot of the creek and surrounding environment which does nothing for the film other than scream out "Look at these beautiful shots!" Yes, it's beautiful and a couple of these shots were necessary to establish where these kids were (in the middle of nowhere), but if I wanted to see a bunch of water and trees for the better part of an evening, I could step outside and actually interact with said environment. This was also the same problem that I had with Brokeback Mountain, although I did find that film to be much, much more enjoyable.

As the film is nearing the end, we bare witness to a shocking event. Again, I'm about to spoil it, so stop reading now if you're interested in checking this movie out. Still with me? Good. The fat bully that was to be pranked accidentally dies by falling in the creek and drowning, and from there, the movie deals with how the pranksters deal with the situation. The problem that I had with this was twofold; first of all, we're meant to feel sorry for this kid because he was "misunderstood" and "didn't have any true friends." I call bullshit on that; we watch as he beats up a kid half his size, we listen as he calls other kids "fags" and "pussies", we witness him attempting to catch a peek up a twelve-year-old's skirt, we hear about how he slammed someone in the face with a baseball bat for no reason, and the list of his vile deeds just goes on and on... yet, we're supposed to feel sorry for him because he died? To paraphrase the good Reverend Samuel Jackson: yes, he deserved to die and I hope he burns in hell. Watching as the director desperately tried to convince us to feel sorry for him in the closing moments was downright laughable, in my humble opinion.

Yes, the movie ends with us watching tubby talk about how he's misunderstood (on a videotape) and how he just wants to be friends, and then it just ends abruptly. What happened to the kids after they turned themselves in? Did they all get busted for the crime, or just the one that pushed him into the water, or were they all proclaimed innocent? What happened to the one that ran off to Mexico? I can appreciate a "put it together yourself" movie as well as the next guy, but when you're supposed to feel for these characters, some sort of closure (be it a happy ending or a downer ending) is expected; ending the film with "Here's tubby, shed a tear for him, and now check out who all was involved with the creation of the film" is a total let-down.

Yes, this movie had some great acting by these child actors, and indeed, the storyline was going good up until the ending. I respect the film and the director for doing so much on a relatively modest budget, but the last act of the film completely ruined it for yours truly. I seem to be alone in my opinion of the film, but that's fine by me. 4/10.
Review by bluemeanie
Added: May 12, 2005
This is what independent cinema is all about. "Mean Creek" was written and directed by cinematic newcomer Jacob Aaron Estes and was made for an astonishing $500,000. How did he do this? Well, the film is about kids, and unless Macaulay Culkin and Dakota Fanning are the stars, paychecks are considerably lower than usual. Estes realized this, and decided to trade Macaulay Culkin in for his younger brother, Rory Culkin. Using a minimalistic cinematography, uncomplicated shots, and a very basic storyline, the overall budget turns out seeming a little high for this type of film. However Estes accomplished this feat, "Mean Creek" has surpassed its budget and is one of the better films of the year.

"Mean Creek" tells the story of five friends who embark on a journey to teach a school bully, George (Josh Peck) a very valuable lesson. Rory Culkin is Sam, the one whom is receiving the brunt of the George's abuse, and Trevor Morgan is Rocky, the older and very protective brother who wants to teach George a lesson. He recruits his two best friends Marty (Scott Mechlowicz), a guy with a pretty messed up home life, and Clyde (Ryan Kelley), who receives constant harassment for having a homosexual father. Millie (Carly Schroeder) is Sam's pseudo-girlfriend and she goes along with the plan, not knowing that there is even a plan to go along with. The plan is simple -- make George strip naked and jump in the river and then walk home completely unclothed, thus teaching him the error of his ways. Things don't go as planned, however, when they all realize that George really isn't the monster they all thought -- he's just a messed up kids who craves attention. But, can a plan be undone that has already been set into motion? Unfortunately for you, that is all I am going to divulge about the plot.

Something that struck me as incredible in this film was the dialogue and interaction between the kids, which is what they all are, essentially. This might be the best job of dialogue I have ever heard. It was certainly the most accurate depiction of how kids talk amongst one another, and how they reason out situations and dilemmas. Even though several of the characters possess age gaps from the rest of the kids, they all basically fall on the same level of understanding and comprehension. Sam is seen as the younger kid, who turns out to have more reasoning skills and conscience than the older kids. Marty is probably the oldest, but acts with the least amount of control due to a rather unenjoyable homelife. And then there is George, who only acts like a bastard before he thinks it will get him attention and make him cool. This is especially evident when George starts assisting Marty in convincing people to play Truth or Dare. Little does he know that he is reaping a whirlwind.

Many directors have said that directing children is the most difficult task imaginable. I guess most of these actors were at that age where it becomes less difficult because they are all flawless in their performances. Josh Peck stands out as George, the bully, and really gives some depth and heart to the character. Scott Mechlowicz is also brilliant as Marty, showing the kind of range we were not privy to in "Euro Trip" -- he is an actor to watch in the coming months. Rory Culkin proves once again that Mac and Kieran are not the only Culkin brothers will skills, and Trevor Morgan finally crosses over from flamboyant child actor to just 'actor'. And where in the hell did Ryan Kelley come from? He just dropped out of nowhere, and should be going places after his performance here. To sum it up, a director could not ask for a better cast of young people for a film.

The tragedy in this film is not the ending, but the way in which we see how the ending affects the people involved. The reality is in that these kids find a way to pull themselves together and think both logically and morally, without worrying as to how their decision is going to affect them. I loved the ending of this film because it made me see how even kids know how to do the right thing, even when it seems like the wrong thing to do. If the last few words in this film do not sum up the entirety of it, than nothing else can. "Mean Creek" might not appeal to everyone, due to the subject matter and tragic turn of events, but it is certainly a film that warrants multiple viewings and examination for the testament that it is. Jacob Aaron Estes has proven himself a fine director, and "Mean Creek" is one of the best motion pictures of 2004, or any year, for that matter. 10/10.
Tristan #1: Tristan - added 06/24/2005, 04:50 AM
I rented this one right when it came out, and it was really damn good.
Kari Byron's Sex Cyborg #2: Kari Byron's Sex Cyborg - added 08/26/2005, 08:34 PM
This is an excellent movie. The acting and performances were top notch for the characters, fittingly. The psychological aspect involved was tackled superbly. When the last scene concludes the film, it will certainly make you reflect upon the subject matter.
(If you liked this, these are recommended to view/read: "Lord Of The Flies", "Bully", and "Better Luck Tomorrow".)
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