Anchor Bay // 2009 // 100 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Daniel Kelly (Retired) // June 24th, 2009
"Everyone grows up with a boogeyman under their bed. Mine terrorized Greenwich Village and smoked Newports" -- Charlie Banks
The Education of Charlie Banks marks the directorial debut of rocker Fred Durst, the Limp Bizkit member now fancying himself as an auteur of cinema. Bad call on his part. Durst's horrible direction is one of the key reasons why this overlong and irritatingly stagnant drama fails to draw the audience in. There was potential within this one, but it's been lost in a stew of lousy filmmaking, mediocre acting, and loose editing. In a way it's easy to admire the project's lofty ambitions, but the actual execution isn't nearly at the level of skill required to match those goals.
Whilst in High School, Charlie Banks (Jesse Eisenberg, Adventureland) watched neighborhood tough guy Mick (Jason Ritter, W.) beat the hell out of two well built men at a party, leaving both within an inch of their lives. Charlie initially reported it to the authorities, but in a moment of panic retracted his statement, allowing Mick to go free and beat on anybody else he pleased.
Fast forward several years, and Charlie is now happily in an Ivy League college with roommate Danny (Chris Marquette, The Girl Next Door) but is about to be paid a surprise visit. Mick and Danny where always buddies and on his way through the country, the former stops by to visit his old pal and reacquaint himself with Charlie. At first things are simply awkward with Charlie's shameful secret making him ill at ease around the unknowing Mick, but soon Mick has ingratiated himself into Campus life, making friends and putting the moves on Charlie's dream girl, Mary (Eva Amurri, Dead Man Walking). Charlie is faced with a dilemma: can this new Mick really be a reformed and sociably easy guy or is it all an act to try and conceal his violent and thuggish tendencies?
The Education of Charlie Banks actually starts with a degree of promise, but under the less than stellar artistic eye of Fred Durst quickly sinks into shameful mediocrity. The fast-paced and well-made opening sequences nicely depicting the New York origins of the characters and the brutal beat down that triggers the story are solid aspects to ground any picture on, but this one squanders them in a desire for slow and ponderous moralizing. Some of the things The Education of Charlie Banks tries to say are important, but the ways in which the film chooses to convey such messages are heavy handed and hard to appreciate.
A big issue is the sub-standard level of performance offered up by the young cast. There are some potentially meaty roles here but nobody seems willing to sink their teeth in deep enough. Jesse Eisenberg has been getting some good press recently for other projects and so I'll reserve judgment on him. Here he's as guilty of anyone in failing to create a decent screen presence, but maybe this is just a one off. Frankly I found everything about his acting borderline horrid; one just has to hope the nerdy caricature here isn't the extent of his abilities as a thespian. Seeing how the story is told from his perspective, the fact he fails to provide any weight or application to the character is a fatal handicap If you don't buy an emotion or even more a word emitting from his character then it's all sadly something of a lost cause. I'm not willing to excuse Eisenberg's weak acting, but for now I'll pretend like I've yet to see him truly perform.
Equally as ineffective is Jason Ritter who also has a fairly large amount of this picture's success on his shoulders. His bland attempt at bringing the reformed Mick to life is equal parts monotonous and one dimensional. You can at least debate that in the case of Eisenberg his character isn't that great from the offset, but given the blistering nature of Mick's aggression, this is a character that could have been great. Instead Ritter applies thin coat of generic uncertainty, which he never gets close to selling the audience. We're meant to ask has this guy really changed but you'll be more likely quizzing, "Is Jason Ritter for real?" His performance is tepid in the absolute extreme, revolving around dangerous glares and artificial charisma, with no middle ground and more crucially, no depth. The Education of Charlie Banks needs a believable Mick for its social commentary to work, but Ritter never even appears adequate.
The film asks viewers if a person can really change or even if their past will let them, but these simple and rather important questions get lost in a mire of over plotted drama and feebly directed scenes. Durst shows no urgency or passion behind the camera. I was shocked at how flat and routine his guiding of this project was. He clearly struggles to solicit good performances, but even from a technical and narrative standpoint, he proves himself an incompetent. The look of the film is drab, lacking any real flair, whilst at 100 minutes, it feels strung out and unengaged. One hundred minutes is hardly an epic runtime and so maybe this says more about the quality of the wafer thin plot line but still Durst and company should have realised their film was guilty of plodding. I imagine with 20 minutes shaved off, The Education of Charlie Banks would be more palatable; certainly it couldn't be any worse.
The film name checks F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby on two occasions and in many ways there are parallels between this and that classic of twentieth century literature. Both deal with the idea of someone adapting into the life of the rich and overcoming an unclear past, but whilst Fitzgerald worked in a powerful story and some great characters, this manages neither. I was particularly disappointed that The Education of Charlie Banks crashed and burned so notably given its punchy and fiercely aggressive opening quarter of an hour, but hey maybe clueless rock stars shouldn't be allowed to make movies.
The DVD features a banal commentary between Ritter and Durst, the former cementing his place as utterly inept with a series of depressingly obvious and smug observations. There is also a 23 minute featurette that allows the actors to interpret the film from a personal standpoint, which is modestly interesting but it has an unfavorable habit of sliding into backslaps for the shoddy directorial work. Durst may not be able to instruct actors but they apparently see him as some sort of up and coming visionary. Overall it's not an overly stacked disc, but it's still probably more bonus material than the movie actually deserves.
At times I can understand and empathize where this movie is coming from, but the actual filmmaking on show is below average at best. Unfortunately this is a project that amounts to considerably less than it could have been.
Guilty, and unless this was a serious learning curve, please keep Fred Durst
out of my cinema.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R