When Sam (Culkin) continually gets picked on by the school bully, he and his protective older brother decide to teach the bully a lesson he will never forget. Together, they come up with a plan that involves inviting the bully on a special river trip for his birthday where they will make sure he is humiliated for all to see. Deciding that he no longer wants to go through with the plan, Sam tries to call it off but it's too late and he must live with the resulting consequences.
Deliverance goes to high school in this grim, stripped-down fable of a prank gone bad. Friends decide to teach a lesson to a teenage bully by inviting him on a canoeing trip where they will humiliate him once and for all. The prank turns seriously sour, and the kids must deal with the consequences. Writer-director Jacob Aaron Estes takes a somber look at these lives, although his low-key approach makes the central tragedy seem melodramatic when it happens. The film isn't quite new enough to be truly revelatory, but Estes neatly avoids a River's Edge rehash by allowing his characters more than dead-eyed anomie. The actors hit their notes with precision, especially Rory Culkin (another of the Culkin family, with Macaulay and Kieran), Ryan Kelley, and Scott Mechlowicz. This is the kind of movie that may be slightly familiar to older audiences, but could easily be a home-video cult item with younger viewers. --Robert Horton
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This movie focuses on a kid with "asburgers" (which asuming it's spelt right is a severe emotional condition) who (because of his condition) viciously attacks a boy after he touched his camera. However, when the caring older brother sees what has happenned, he gets his older friends together (two of them) and plots with his little brother how to get him back. They're plan was to strip him of his clothes in the middle of a river and make him swim back naked. The thing about this movie that makes it good is that you start having sympathy for the bully, because you start realizing it's not his fault, and the worse part is it's not, it's a condition. This condition makes him very hard to like, and everytime he angers someone you think he deserves it, like at the start you wanted nothing more than for him to be beat up. And it keeps twisting your mind, because some points your find the trick to be cruel while other times you wouldn't be able to stand him yourself. This movie scared me because I know someone who used to go to my school with the same condition, and he just wouldn't stop and I punched him hard, and luckily after that he stoppped because I don't know if I would have stopped. Mean Creek is real, and it's amazing. Well made, good acting, 5 stars.
(An extremely similiar movie if your willing to watch sex scenes, excessive drug use and more severe bullying, is "bully" however that movie isn't as real, or well acted as this one)
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In Mean Creek, the bully's name is George (Josh Peck), and the smaller kid he picks on is Sam (Rory Culkin). After a run-in with George, who has been held back a grade several times, making him bigger than the others in his class, Sam, his older brother Rocky (Trevor Morgan), and Rocky's friends Marty (Scott Mechlowicz) and Clyde (Ryan Kelley) come up with a plan: they will invite George to a birthday party for Sam, take him out on a boat on the river, start a game of Truth or Dare, then strip him naked and dump him into the river, and George will have to run home naked. They reason that this is the best way to get back at him, because it doesn't hurt him physically, which would be as bad as what he does to other kids.
Also along for the ride is Sam's girlfriend Millie (Carly Schroeder), who wasn't told in advance and doesn't like the plan. George accepts the invitation, but when the group starts to talk to him, they find out that he's not such a bad guy--it seems he just wants some friends--and Sam wants to call off the plan. Everyone agrees except Marty, who's got some personal demons of his own; he's sort of the ringleader for drinking and smoking and things of the same ilk. Things don't go as planned, and each of the characters is faced with a difficult moral dilemma that will affect the rest of their lives.
At heart, these are all good kids. Marty has an oppressive older brother, and harbors some sort of resentment against just about everybody--even his friends--but we get the feeling it's because of the way he was brought up, not because of any conscious choice of his own. Clyde has two gay fathers, and is not comfortable when other people insinuate that he too is gay. Rocky wants to be a good role model and protector for his kid brother. Millie is a kind-hearted girl and just wants Sam to like her and have a normal relationship with him. Sam, played especially effectively by the youngest of the Culkin clan, Rory, just wants to be a normal kid and not have to spend his days worrying about whether he will get beat up. And George is the big mystery; we first meet him as a bully, pounding on Sam, but then we see him in his room with his video camera, and he seems lonely. He seems genuinely happy to be hanging out with the rest of this group, but he's got a terrible temper and lashes out without warning.
Mean Creek very realistically portrays teenagers doing what they do: fighting amongst themselves and starting more trouble as a group than they ever would as individuals. We get to know each of these six characters very well, and understand why they act the way they do, and the performances here are all flawless. Most of the films about teenagers tend to look down on them and make them all look stupid, but Mean Creek treats them with respect and tries to show why sometimes they act a little strange: because they're confused, and yeah, maybe a little mean.
What's amazing about this film, is that it totally focuses on the main characters. There's barely a mention of parents, apart from a couple of brief shots, and most of it takes place on what looks like a very peaceful river. What's the worst that could happen? It's not like they're white water rafting or something. (Which I thought was gonna happen.)
Rory Culkin will probably never come out of the Culkin shadows, but he does give it his best shot most of the time, I just wish he didn't play the little boy lost character all the time! Even IMDB won't show an older shot of him on their main page. He seemed a little bit lost amongst all the older characters (Ryan Kelley, Scott Mechlowicz, Trevor Morgan and Josh Peck), and his relationship with Millie (Carly Shroeder) is so innocent, it's sweet to watch.
I'm still not sure whether George (Josh Peck) deserved what happened to him or not. And the movie never really says either, it's left hanging as to what happens to all the kids, and lets the viewers make up their own minds. But George did have the ability to push people too far. What would you do in that situation? As it says in Mean Creek, if you could snap your fingers and they would drop dead, would you? It's a very difficult question to ask.
I thought the film started to drag towards the end, after what happened to George, happened, and they all went home. It could have been edited a little better there, but I suppose it kept the suspense going.
Mean Creek definitely comes highly recommended, and stands head & shoulders above the other teen movies. It's got an R rating, so it's proceed with caution if you're young, but it's a real eye opener, and makes all the other teen movies pale in comparison.
So what makes it one of the best movies I've seen come out of America for many years now?
Sam (Rory Culkin) is being bullied by George, a fat aggressive kid. Sam's older brother Rocky and his two friends Marty and Clyde, form a plan to get revenge, and then everything goes wrong. Simple, right?
Wrong. The extremely careful subtext and conflicting idealogies of 'Mean Creek' make this ostensibly black-and-white tale of retribution and consequence one of the most richly-woven stories ever put on film. For example, on one end, you have the truly good characters - Sam and his girlfriend Millie, or Clyde and Rocky - whose apathy and lack of real action in the face of all their protestations make for a nice metaphor about the duality of goodness. Similarly, on the other end of the spectrum, ringleader Marty's in a lot of pain since his father committed suicide, and bully George turns out to have the heart of an artist, his violence and rage coming from his dyslexia and obesity.
In terms of characterisation, then, 'Mean Creek' doesn't let you get a firm handle on any of the protagonists, but keeps you absolutely spellbound with the quality of the performances from each and every one of the kids in the main roles. It's been a long time since I've seen actors display such a depth of feeling and sensitivity for the subject matter of their roles, and I have to say, there's not one actor here that is anything below excellent. Standout performances come from the brilliant Carly Schroeder as Millie and equally good Josh Peck as bully George, with the rest of the cast doing an excellent, excellent job.
Direction is also superlative; it walks a razor-thin line between Creative and Pretentious, but, thanks to the talent of Jacob Aaron Estes, never crosses over into the realms of boring 'Art'. The slow, almost lazy pace of the boat ride and the unclutteredness of the interior shots show a real desire of Estes to allow this story to be seen, and there's next-to-no narrative camerawork to tell us how we should feel. No overlong close-ups on sentimental good guys, no down-looking-up shots of bad guys' expressions - Estes simply points and shoots, and the end result is a film as beautiful in its imagery as it is effective in its simplicity.
Wholly recommended as a purchase, this - while not an easy movie to watch, particularly if you have ever been the victim of bullying, or a bully yourself - is an excellent piece of film that has restored my faith in American Cinema. It's a beautiful, well-made and extremely clever film, and its depth will only truly be discovered on repeat viewings.
I'll start a couple of years ago, when I read Truman Capote's In Cold Blood and have since never gotten over the idea that it still is very plausible that two men can walk into a home, murder four people in cold blood, and do all of it for virtually nothing. The book scared the crap out of me because of the fact that it happened, things similar to it still happen, and they happen to people just like you and I. I get the chills when thoughts of demons or ghosts or aliens arise, just like everyone else, but what makes me keep the light on at night is the fact that I'm one of millions of people on this earth who are capable of doing anything. And by 'anything,' I don't mean mowing the lawn.
Mean Creek is obstensibly about that dark possibility that lurks within everyone, that one moment when reason is thrown away, the stars are aligned, and disaster strikes. It's really about the aftermath, though; and not just the logistics, but the strange things that we as humans do when we're in a situation that we never imagined we would have to encounter in a million years. And it all begins because Sam (Rory Culkin, officially the best actor in his famous family) is pissed. Pissed because the fat kid, George, beat the crap out of him for basically no reason.
Nobody likes the fat kid, so Sam's older brother, Rocky (Trevor Morgan), and his other friends devise a plan to pay George back. The idea: invite him on a boat trip, get him to play Truth or Dare, strip him naked and get him in the water, and make the fatass walk home embarassed as can be. What actually happens: every single thing that shouldn't.
First of all, George is a nice guy with some issues, and most of the kids in the group decide right quick that the whole plan to ruin him isn't right. Unfortunately, it's a problem with the eldest of the gang, Marty (Scott Mechlowicz), who wants to seek revenge whether George is nice or not. And if you've seen Deliverance (or even the film's enticing trailer for that matter), you know where it's all headed. What writer Jacob Aaron Estes has up his sleeve in the film's masterful denoument, though, is beyond explanation.
Most movies involving kids attempt to strike a cord with its audience where the awareness of innocence wipes clean all sins of a child. Estes' script is so precisely shaped that we don't see redemption from the opening moments; every single scene leading up to the film's climactic moment is accompanied by a stomach-churning tension, a sickening awareness that these kids will not behave like the kids we see in most movies. These kids will behave like adults, desperate for a way out, clawing for a solution, and willing to do anything to achieve it. We cringe when we see George doing and saying genuinely nice things as he's led to the water because the kids are cringing inside. We struggle with what to think of him, just as they do, and then things are turned upside and we're left struggling with what to think of everyone else. The cast, led by Culkin, initially occupy the general stereotypes where we see them fit, but then we see how tragedy and circumstance change them. This mostly unknown cast conveys a feeling of reality that did more than send a chill up my spine.
That feeling of reality will hit you like a ton of bricks. Mean Creek, though tinged with the earthiness of a David Gordon Green film in the beginning, descends into a shocking moral quandary that makes the insidious "Dueling Banjos" of Deliverance seem like a bedtime lullaby. Gone is that cinematic trick of ambiguity (an easy way out for a movie like this), away goes the idea that these kids will persevere, out goes any comfortable solution whatsoever (that the film's solution is so noble is even more sad). Creek is a perfectly plausible set of events that could happen to anyone, and that's what makes it so deeply terrifying.
In its final moments, I fought the urge to look away, Mean Creek is so painful to bear. But it's a necessary pain; we learn from this movie, about moral choice and responsibility, and about the power of social dominance and the consequences of revenge. I wasn't just crushed by this movie; I was so scared I could hardly move, provoked only to silence as the credits rolled. This is real stuff, a movie that reaches a new level of effectiveness in that it burrows into your mind and your heart and puts them both in torment. I was reminded more than a few times of Peter Weir's great Picnic at Hanging Rock during the film, probably because - until now - it was the most disturbing, terrifying film I'd ever seen.
Mean Creek is a towering achievement, but I wouldn't wish it upon anyone. I'll never watch it again, as I enjoy sleeping at night. It's getting an "A" because it's a masterwork, not because it's wistfully romantic like Before Sunset. I'm recommending it because things of this nature happen and we must be faced with them, not because it's fun. A
Would I recommend you show this movie to your kids, not really. However, the reason this isn't exactly a mainstream film to flaunt is because it develops slowly. There is no dramatic scene that puts everything else into perspective. There are more or less slowly developing confrontations between every character.
The plot of "Mean Creek" is terrific. If you are the type of person that needs an action movie to stay awake then you might want to stay away from the film. However, those of you that will watch most movies regardless will rate this one as a must-see after viewing the entire film. The bonus commentary on the DVD reveals the art of working with young actors who truly add spontaneous life to the set.