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DVD Reviews

HTF DVD Review: THE EDUCATION OF CHARLIE BANKS (dir. Fred Durst)



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#1 of 3 OFFLINE   Michael Reuben

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Posted June 25 2009 - 05:09 AM

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The Education of Charlie Banks

Studio:
Anchor Bay
Rated: R
Film Length: 101 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 (enhanced for 16:9)
Audio: English DD 5.1
Subtitles: English SDH; Spanish
MSRP: $29.97
Package: Keepcase
Insert: None
Theatrical Release Date: April 27, 2009 (but see below)
DVD Release Date: June 30, 2009


"Every kid grows up with a boogeyman under his bed. Mine terrorized Greenwich Village and smoked Newports."


Introduction:

It's taken over two years for the directorial debut of Limp Bizkit's Fred Durst to become widely
available. Shot in 2006, Durst's unconventional coming-of-age tale debuted to an enthusiastic
response at the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival, then sat on a shelf for two years before finally
receiving a theatrical release - in three theaters for two weeks. Its box office was just over
$15,000. In the meantime, Durst would find work as a journeyman director for one of Ice Cube's
family-friendly films, The Longshots, released in 2008.
 
Anchor Bay has now given The Education of Charlie Banks a solid DVD release so that a wider
audience can experience a distinctive voice in contemporary filmmaking, one who (as the release
history of Charlie Banks suggests) will not have an easy time being heard in the current
marketplace. Defying the expectations raised by his history as a rap and nu metal musician, Durst
chose a character-driven script that he filmed in a nuanced, deliberate style evoking the classics
of 1970s filmmaking. It is not an accident that the title character prominently displays the iconic
image of Robert DeNiro in Raging Bull on the wall of his college dorm room (though, as a film
reference, Mean Streets would be just as appropriate).
 
 
The Feature:

It is the early seventies. Two ten-year-old schoolboys, Charlie and Danny, are sitting in a school
bus outside a Village playground, waiting to go home. Suddenly, Danny points out Mitch Leary,
a famously tough kid who swaggers onto a basketball court occupied by much older players, who
obviously accept him. Mitch is respected and feared for having beaten down another kid who
committed the cardinal sin of spray-painting over one of Mitch's "tags". Charlie is both terrified
and fascinated.
 
Fast-forward a few years, and it's a high school party attended by a teenage Charlie (Jesse
Eisenberg, most recently seen in Adventureland), Danny (Chris Marquette, Joan of Arcadia) and
Mitch (Jason Ritter, also from Joan of Arcadia). Mitch is still the quintessential cool guy, with
girls lining up to make out with him, but before the evening is out, Charlie watches him commit
an act of violence so casually savage that Charlie is jolted into making a police report. Mitch is
arrested, but when Charlie sees how deeply the arrest upsets Danny, who has become close
friends with Mitch, he withdraws his statement, despite crushing disapproval by his father (a
cameo appearance by veteran character actor Dennis Boutsikaris). Mitch is released, and no one
knows that it was Charlie who reported him.
 
Fast-forward a few years more, and Charlie and Danny are roommates at an idyllic Ivy League
college. Their circle of friends includes a charming, hard-partying rich kid named Leo (Sebastian
Stan) and a senator's daughter named Mary (the lovely and talented Eva Amurri, daughter of
Susan Sarandon), on whom Charlie has a crush. One day, though, Charlie returns to his dorm
room to find Mitch there. He just turned up, Danny explains. And then he decides to stay.
Against his better judgment, Charlie begins to like Mitch. Unfortunately, so does Mary.
 
In other hands, The Education of Charlie Banks might have turned into a cheesy thriller, turning
on the question of why Mitch is there and whether he knows that it was Charlie who ratted him
out years earlier. But Durst recognized that writer Peter Elkoff's script had much more to it, if
properly handled. Introducing an unknown and foreign element like Mitch into this collegiate
group opens up rich possibilities for exploring the impact of wealth and class on people whose
characters are not yet fully formed. As both Charlie and his friends react to Mitch's presence,
they begin to reveal different parts of themselves, and they draw out different parts of Mitch.
Among other things, Mitch begins auditing classes and even reads an entire book. Appropriately
enough, it's that great American parable of the illusion of upward mobility, The Great Gatsby.

Like all good directors, Durst understands the critical importance of casting. He went against
type with Jason Ritter, whose Mitch neither looks nor sounds like a tough guy. The character is
not meant to be a crazed psychopath, but merely someone whose early experience taught him
when and how to use violence and never to back down. We get just enough hints of Mitch's
background to understand how those lessons were learned.

Durst also chose well in casting Jesse Eisenberg as Charlie on the strength of prior performances
in Rodger Dodger and The Squid and the Whale, because Eisenberg has a natural talent for
showing the camera what his character is feeling, even as his character is concealing it from
those around him. Eisenberg's Charlie is always the most conflicted character on screen, the guy
caught in the middle, and not just between his friend, Danny, and his boogeyman, Mitch. Durst
takes care to show us that Charlie is from a middle class family, which means that he's not like
Mitch. But he doesn't come from money, which means he's also not like Danny (whose doctor
parents live in a luxurious Manhattan brownstone) or Leo or Mary (who come from privilege and
power). This makes Charlie something of an outsider in almost every situation. His emotions are
always being pulled in multiple directions, perhaps no more so than in a painful and funny scene
in which he is trying to flirt with Mary in a hot tub at Leo's house, only to have a naked Mitch
suddenly hop in between them. Mary, of course, immediately warms to the bad boy.

Then there's Leo, whose idea of an impulse buy is a $200,000 yacht, and who adopts Mitch so
thoroughly that he hands him an entire wardrobe of preppy clothing. Mitch is obviously touched
by this gesture, not realizing that to Leo he is just a passtime of the moment. (To Mary as well.)
For his part, Leo thinks he's performing an act of noblesse oblige and can't see that, even as
Mitch is overwhelmed by the glitter of Leo's world, he's also judging it.

Durst shoots the film in long, uninterrupted takes, letting the actors play out the characters'
relationships in as much detail as possible. It's an approach that requires your full attention, but
also rewards it. These characters are three-dimensional people, even when they behave badly or
stupidly (which is often). 
 
Knowing Mitch as he does, Charlie can never relax, and concerns about violence are never far
from his mind or the audience's. The film does indeed end violently, but not in any way that one
might have anticipated. It's a realistic film, and it ends in a way that's thoroughly believable.
Scorsese may be one of Durst's inspirations, but this is no Taxi Driver. As much as Durst may
enjoy filling the frame with the kind of mythic reference points that college students can't resist -
DeNiro in Raging Bull, Fitzgerald's Gatsby - he also understands that these cultural archetypes
are only distant stars that can be used to chart a course in life. The course itself remains
earthbound and pedestrian. That too is part of Charlie Banks's education.

(Note: Some reviewers complained that Mitch's continued presence on a college campus defies
credibility. They were wrong. I attended an Ivy League school, and I can assure you that people
regularly stayed in dorm rooms, ate at cafeterias, even audited classes, without ever being
registered. No one cared, and no one checked. A different level of security may apply today, but
at the time when the film is set, anyone who knew a registered student could have done what
Mitch does.)

 
Video:

I did not manage to catch Charlie Banks during its blink-and-you'll-miss-it theatrical run, but I'm
impressed with its presentation on DVD. For NTSC resolution, the image is remarkably detailed,
which is especially important given Durst's preference for long and medium shots. Video noise is
evident but controlled, and there doesn't appear to have been any artificial sharpening. Colors are
somewhat muted in the early childhood and high school scenes, but then become stronger and
more varied when we reach the collegiate present. Still, there is a softness to the image that
appears to be deliberate, as befits a story of looking backward. Colors tend toward the warm end
of the spectrum, and this particularly suits the various outdoor shots at the college and the
sequence in which Leo flies everyone to a palatial estate overlooking the seashore.


Audio:

There are moments in the film when the 5.1 soundtrack is intensely immersive and involving. A
notable example occurs toward the film's end during a sequence at a formal dance, when you feel
like you're on the dance floor with the characters. For much of the film, though, the mix is not
only front-centered, but also tightly focused in the center channel. Even before I listened to
Durst's commentary, in which he confirmed his conscious choice of a "seventies" style, I was
aware that I was hearing it in the sound track: natural-sounding dialogue, much of it overlapping,
relatively little ADR, with the emphasis more on the emotional timbre of the exchanges than on
making each specific word stand out. The dialogue always remains paramount, and the rest of the
soundtrack is designed to support it. Even the musical soundtrack is usually weighted toward the
front, with relatively light support from the surrounds (with the exception of specific effects such
as the dance sequence noted above). While this is not material for showing off one's sound
system, it is an appropriate sound design for the film as Durst has conceived it.
 

Special Features:

Commentary by director Fred Durst and actor Jason Ritter. I would have preferred more
Durst and less Ritter. Ritter's enthusiasm is undeniable, but he's a better actor than he is a
speaker. Durst's affection for the film and everyone involved in it is so strong that it sometimes
leads to the "everyone was great" style of commentary, but he does provide insight into his
directorial style by routinely pointing out scenes that were shot without coverage and elements
that the actors were able to add because they were working in long, uninterrupted takes.

Conversations Behind The Education of Charlie Banks (23:51). A well-edited "making of"
featuring interviews with Durst, screenwriter Peter Elkoff, various cast members and members of
the production team. Of particular interest are the contributions by Elkoff, who discusses the
inspirations for his original script.
 
Trailers. The film's trailer is included, though I doubt it ever played in any theater. Selectable
from the special features menu are trailers for While She Was Out, Sex and Death 101, The
Grand
and Surfer, Dude. Also included on the disc upon startup (and skippable via the menu
button) are previews for the Starz series Crash, an upcoming film entitled Lies and Illusions and
the recently released independent feature Bart Got a Room.

 
In Conclusion:

A compelling new voice in American cinema finally gets a chance to be heard. Seek it out. If the
DVD sells well enough, maybe Durst won't have to depend on Ice Cube's charity for his next
film.



Equipment used for this review:

Denon 955 DVD player
Samsung HL-T7288W DLP display
Lexicon MC-8
Sunfire Cinema Grand amplifier
Monitor Audio floor-standing fronts and MA FX-2 rears
Boston Accoustics VR-MC center
Velodyne HGS-10 sub

COMPLETE list of my disc reviews.       HTF Rules / 200920102011 Film Lists

#2 of 3 OFFLINE   TonyD

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Posted June 27 2009 - 09:59 AM

I'll be trying to fit this in tomorrow and I had no idea that Fred Durst had become movie director.
After I noticed Durst directed this I looked it up I saw that he also dir Longshots from a year or so ago as you mentioned Michael.

Anyway I'll try to watch it tomorrow, maybe while I'm playing around with my new iPhone.
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#3 of 3 OFFLINE   MarkBirds

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Posted July 01 2009 - 05:21 PM

Put this my Netflix queue on a whim and it came today. Definitely going to watch it tonight. Great review!
I loves me some zombies.