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  Mean Creek Beat The Bullies
Year: 2004
Director: Jacob Aaron Estes
Stars: Rory Culkin, Ryan Kelley, Scott Mechlowicz, Trevor Morgan, Josh Peck, Carly Schroeder, Branden Williams, Michael Fisher-Welsh, Raissa Fleming, Kaz Garas, Shelly Lipkin, J.W. Crawford, Heath Lourwood, Ryan Peterson, Hagai Shaham
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: When Sam (Rory Culkin) went over to investigate a camera he noticed at school, he paid for his inquisitiveness by being beaten up by the camera's hulking owner George (Josh Peck) who had been using it to film his basketball practice. This is the final straw for Sam, as it's not the first time he has been attacked by George and neither is he the only person who has felt the bully's wrath. His girlfriend Millie (Carly Schroeder) asks him later if he could wipe his tormentor from the face of the Earth, would he? Sam doesn't want to go that far, but he does want to get his own back, so he, his brother and his brother's friends hatch a scheme...

Sort of a moralistic Stand By Me, writer and director Jacob Aaron Estes' Mean Creek presented itself as a teen drama that delved into the rights and wrongs of getting even, and how the scales can overbalance if you're not careful. Filmed during a hazy summer's day, the idyllic surface masks a menacing heart of darkness as the characters travel down the river with revenge on their minds. What they have planned is luring George to go with them by having him believe it is Sam's birthday and naturally he shouldn't tell anyone where he's going lest they want to crash the party.

George falls for it hook line and sinker, but could it be he is not as bad as the others make out? It transpires he has learning difficulties and his tragic lack of social graces are down to more complex reasons than simply being born bad. He even gets Sam an expensive present. He also brings along his video camera as in his mind he is making a film of his life, and Sam comes to the conclusion that maybe he doesn't want to strip George of all his clothes, push him in the river and have him run home naked. Maybe their potential victim is more deserving of pity.

Mean Creek holds few surprises, but that can work in the story's favour when the tension lies in waiting for the inevitable violence to occur. Though it is a fairly short, compact film, Estes draws out the suspense in making his characters realise that life is not as black and white as the extremes of good and evil, and in turning against George they are now the aggressors: they thought they were the good guys, but actually they're the bad guys. Eventually the only person who wants to go through with the prank is Marty (Scott Mechlowicz) as the others are having a severe case of second thoughts.

Peck is excellent in his depiction of an unsympathetic boy who nonetheless makes you feel sorry for him. Like Marty, like most of them really, he lacks a strong role model to guide him and when he confronts Marty with this truth the tragedy happens. But is Mean Creek as morally shaded as it first appears? After all, just because you're obnoxious is no excuse to be attacked - or worse - and these while teens seem to recognise that, it's just that peer pressure forces them into a difficult position. What they needed was to realise this before they embarked, and the cast portray this immaturity with convincing gravity. Perhaps a braver approach would have been to emphasise this angle instead of making it end very much as we expected. Music by tomandandy.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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