(Anchor Bay) Jesse Eisenberg, Jason Ritter, Chris Marquette, Eve Amurri, Sebastian Stan, Gloria Votsis, Steven Hinkle, Dennis Boutsikaris. Directed by Fred Durst
Change is part of the human experience; we all aspire to change the things that are imperfect within us. We are not always successful at changing, but we never give up hope that someday we’ll finally get to where we want to be.
Charlie Banks (Eisenberg) is a young man who is a walking bundle of nerves. He has a fascination for Mick (Ritter), the neighborhood bully that borders on awe, going back to their childhoods. It’s the swagger and self-confidence, two things that Charlie doesn’t possess, that he admires. At a frat party one year as Charlie prepares to enter a prestigious Ivy League University, Charlie witnesses Mick beating up a couple of jocks nearly to death.
He reports this to the police, but afraid of the consequences of his decision he recants, leaving Mick out on the streets after serving a few days in jail. Charlie has no idea if Mick knows for certain who squealed on him in the first place but now that he is in his academic environment he figures he’s safe from him.
That turns out not to be the case. One day Charlie is surprised to find Mick visiting Charlie’s roommate Danny (Marquette), a friend of Mick’s from the neighborhood. Charlie is understandably unnerved, wondering if Mick knows. What was supposed to be a brief visit turns into a lengthy stay, as Mick begins to insinuate himself into Charlie’s circle of friends, even making romantic overtures towards Mary (Amurri), the girl Charlie is crushing on.
As time passes, Charlie’s fears seem to be allayed. Mick seems to see Charlie as something of a role model. For Mick’s part, he sees that learning isn’t necessarily for pussies and begins to feel a glimmer of hope that a better life is available to him. Charlie knows what Mick is capable of and warns his friends to a certain degree, but at the same time is rooting for Mick to change his ways. Can Mick overcome his own brutal, violent nature?
Limp Biskit frontman Durst explores themes that aren’t exactly unknown to heavy rockers, and inserts them throughout the movie. Drugs, sex, violence are all in the mix, as are feelings of insecurity and a bit of a middle finger to the upper classes (most of Charlie’s circle are twits, arrogant assholes and spoiled brats).
Eisenberg made this at an earlier stage of his career when he tended to be a bit twitchy in his actions. It gets so unsettling that by the movie’s end you feel yourself tapping your feet or drumming your fingers unconsciously. It’s good to know that he’s matured as an actor, as his most recent turns in Zombieland and Adventureland both show.
Ritter is what one would call “interesting casting,” a polite way of saying “Who the heck cast him as that?!?!” This is the kind of role that twenty years ago might have gone to Michael Pare or Matt Dillon or last year might have gone to Channing Tatum; there needs to be a sense of the smolder beneath the charming façade and Ritter tries gamely to conjure it up, but isn’t always on the money there.
The triangle between Charlie, Mick and Mary make up the most compelling part of the story for me, and given the early-80s/late-70s era that this is set in, the sex and drugs and rock and roll are a big part of it too. The last 20 minutes seem to lose their way a little bit before the end credits run; I got the feeling that the writers began to lose some focus, although that could have been simply me. Either way, it isn’t a good thing.
As first movie’s go, The Education of Charlie Banks isn’t a bad first effort. It is certainly flawed and might have benefitted from the surer touch of a veteran director, but we all have to start somewhere. I haven’t seen The Longshots, Durst’s second film, but I’m more inclined to based on seeing his first.
WHY RENT THIS: The relationships between Charlie and Mick and Mary make for an interesting triangle.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Eisenberg is a little bit too twitchy in the movie, giving the effect of watching a kid with ADD for a couple of hours.
FAMILY VALUES: As would befit a movie set in the early 80s about the poor little rich kid set, there’s a ton of drug and alcohol use, lots of swearing and thanks to the presence of Mick, a ton of sudden and terrifying violence. There’s also plenty of sexual content for those who look for such things.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: While this was the first feature film to be directed by Durst, it actually was the second to be released; the sports film The Longshots with Ice Cube had a wide release several months before Anchor Bay released this on its brief limited run.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.
FINAL RATING: 5/10