Review by Gordon Justesen
Rory Culkin, Ryan Kelley, Scott Mechlowicz, Trevor Morgan, Josh Peck, Carly
Director: Jacob Aaron Estes
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Features: See Review
Length: 89 Minutes
Release Date: January 25, 2005
are you going to do?”
gonna drive to Mexico. What do you think?”
don’t know what to think.”
if you don’t know what to think, then you probably shouldn’t be making
There hasn’t been
a more haunting film experience in recent memory than Mean Creek. In fact, having just recently watched the film a day
prior to writing this piece, I am still haunted by the film as I speak to you.
It has a noteworthy level of power, as well as the most talented cast of young
actors to appear in an adult oriented film since perhaps Stand by Me.
Premiering at last
year’s Sundance festival, the film quickly earned praise, as well as
comparison to the likes of River’s Edge.
It deserves the comparison, because Mean
Creek is certainly this generation’s River’s
Edge. First time writer/director Jacob Aaron Estes has woven together a
brutal and absorbing piece that I sincerely think will get a big reaction out of
those who see it, much like the one I had to it.
The film opens with
young Sam (Rory Culkin) becoming the victim of an assault by the school bully,
George (Josh Peck). Sam comes home with a bruised face, which influences his
older brother, Rocky (Trevor Morgan), to devise a somewhat elaborate scheme in
order to get back at George, who’s known only through his numerous attacks on
easy targets at school.
The act of payback
is designed to simply teach George a lesson, nothing more and nothing less. Sam
agrees to the plan only if it entails that George will get hurt without being
“hurt”. Rocky gets two other culprits in on the gig in the form of friends
Marty (Scott Mechlowicz) and Clyde (Ryan Kelley). Sam also gets his potential
girlfriend, Millie (Carly Schroeder) involved, even though she’s not entirely
clued in as to what’s going on.
The plan is to make
amends with George and invite him for a get together on Sam’s “birthday”,
which will include a boat ride down a nearby river in the woods.
What starts out as an easy attempt at payback goes south when the group
find that George, who does so much as to get Sam a birthday gift, isn’t that
bad of a guy after all. Upon discovering this, Sam secretly tells the group to
call off the plan, but an innocent game of truth or dare will result in a tragic
Once this tragic
event happens (and although I won’t reveal what exactly happens, one can
pretty much assume what the inevitable is), that’s when Mean Creek extracts its harrowing impact that will remain with you
for the remainder of the movie, and will likely stick with you long after the
viewing is over. For me, the crucial turning point in the film had me sinking
deep in my seat, still not believing what had just happened, and even more
wondering about how these kids were going to find their way out of what
they’ve gotten themselves into.
The strength of the
film can be credited to its writer/director, Jacob Aaron Estes, who has made a
more than striking film debut. His indie-approach to this story helps to enhance
the overall effect of the film. The setting of the river stream, where a good
portion of the action is set, feels as authentic as any set piece you could ask
for. The effective cinematography of Sharon Meir adds a great deal to the
And the cast of
young actors, most of them unknowns, is simply stunning. To see this young group
deal with their predicament, as well as they handle the consequences of their
actions, is mind blowing. It’s a surefire answer to the pre-conceived notion
that all kids in the movies have to act and sound like characters in
conventional, teen-oriented movies. Among the cast, the performance that struck
me most was Scott Mechlowicz as Marty, the elder of the group whose gesture
leads to the turning point in the story.
Although it may
serve as a film that was inspired by similarly-themed films from the past, Mean
Creek is a true discovery. It showcases the most riveting portrait of young
teens in a coming of age scenario, and applies brutal honesty at the same time.
It’s the kind of film that doesn’t get made often, and it’s one of the
most absorbing films I’ve seen in quite a while.
picture on this Paramount release is quite superb and efficient. The film
carries with it a unique visual style, thanks in part to the edgy
cinematography, as mentioned. Though the disc does showcase a slight setback in
the image in the form of brief softness, this independent film is visually
effective enough in this format.
The 5.1 mix
delivers a more than intriguing listen. Like all indies, this one is powered by
dialogue. However, in addition to the dialogue delivery, which is every bit
clear, the woods and river setting provide numerous grand instances of subtle
background sound, which gives this an extra boost of credit.
Featured on the
disc is a cast and director commentary, a storyboard gallery, and bonus previews
for additional Paramount releases.