Mean Creek

| September 4, 2004

Sundance has had a stellar year with several of the films screened at this years festival going on to have a considerable amount of mainstream success. Following Napoleon Dynamite, Garden State, Open Water and others, Mean Creek is another worthy film to continue this trend. Like a few of the other Sundance successes, Mean Creek is the feature directorial debut for filmmaker Jacob Aaron Estes.
After getting beaten up by bully George, Sam confides to his brother about the torment he receives from George. His brother establishes a plan to get back at George and he summons the help of two of his friends. The prank involves a fake birthday for Sam that takes all of them on a boat ride down an Oregon river. Unbeknownst to them, George actually appears to be a likeable person, until he hits several nerves that brings the prank into action and soon thereafter, tragedy.
Estes brings his Nicholl Fellowship award winning script to screen with a strong cast of young actors. Rory Culkin continues to impress in such way that when you think of the Culkin name, you immediately think of Rory. He is a quiet force that propels the film. The other two people that leave you with strong performances are Ryan Kelley, playing the character of the soft spoken Clyde and Carly Schroeder playing Sam’s external consciousness and grade school girlfriend Millie.
A very important theme throughout the film is the role of siblings, most importantly in this story, the role of brothers among each other. Although Sam’s brother, Rocky, means well in revenging his brother’s bully, he leads by a destructive example that ultimately hurts them in the end. Rocky’s best friend, Marty, is himself being held in a destructive environment by the absence of his father and the abusive nature of his brother. Marty’s brother does what he can to help Marty after the tragedy, but it’s in the only way he understands how to.
Although the film could very easily fall into the not so forgiving world of after school specials, Estes manages to keep pulling it into a sincerely moralistic story that doesn’t force lessons, but rather observes decisions. The question arises whether they can forget the events of that tragic day when they are adults. In the end of this movie, we can only wonder if the events that had occurred will allow them to face themselves in the mirror and ultimately forgive themselves for the most tragic of tragedies.

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