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Fred Schepisi's film, 'The Devil's Playground' is an intimate portrait of Tom, a thirteen-year-old struggling in spirit and body with the constraints of living in a Catholic seminary. It is also the story of the Brothers and how they cope with the demands of their faith. Written by
There's one piece of inspired casting: Tom Kenneally (who looks like a jolly monk) as the visiting priest who looks like a jolly monk. Kenneally isn't an actor. (He's an Australian writer, best known overseas as the author of "Schindler's Ark", retitled "Schindler's List" in the US.) In fact, a non-actor suits the part well: like Kenneally, the priest arrives at the school performing his priest act competently but without polish. Like Kenneally, his native charm shines through, even when he's giving an appalling speech about Hell. You find yourself wondering: is he REALLY serious? And you have no way of telling.
That's all that's truly inspired about Schepisi's film. The story takes place at some kind of young-priests-to-be training college, only for a long time it looks as though there is no story at all: instead we get slice after slice of life, and it's a while before we can tell all the characters apart and work out which ones we're meant to be following. Telling a story in this way requires razor precision; every single scene must be inherently interesting AND perfectly crafted. No scene (with one possible exception) is. On the other hand, no scene really falls down, either. This is the kind of reasonably absorbing movie (after the initial boring bits) that's well worth the time it takes to watch - i.e., an hour and a half. (And it's even worth the time spent thinking about afterwards.) There's a difference between satisfaction and pleasure; a film like this is satisfying, and ... well, not UNpleasant. If only the title didn't promise something BIG.
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