For the most part it's a tale of an adolescent, Trevor, who gets picked on a lot at school. Not as much as he used to, because the year before he called in a phony bomb threat, complete with a working bomb (minus anything that would actually explode). Because of this, parents and teachers are afraid of him, and his fellow students generally avoid him, except for a group of outcasts called the "Trogs". As violence by the Jocks against the Trogs escalates, Trevor is the suspect for anything gone wrong, even though he didn't necessarily do anything. One teacher is willing to give Trevor the benefit of the doubt, and casts him in a highly controversial play about (what else?) school shootings. It all comes to a head as some other students create a plan to bring guns to school and kill everyone in the cafeteria. Written by
[Shown on the videotape]
When I am gone, you will all have this to ponder and maybe realize why I did what I did. A little push in front of other kids is a very big deal, particularly when you know it's gonna happen to you every single day, every single day, every single day, you are almost relieved when it actually happens. You are always waiting, waiting for the next attack. They don't just hurt kids, they make you hurt yourself. I cant take two more years of this, and the more they call me ...
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A gritty meditation on teen violence that pulls no punches
This movie feels like an after school special with teeth. While that may not sound like a compliment, it's good to see a film that has both its heart and its head in the right place: the message of the movie is worthwhile and the delivery of that message doesn't downplay the complexity of all the issues at hand. Doing both of those things and making the film watchable is a rare feat; doing both of those things and making it compelling is a small miracle.
The threat of violence hangs over every scene like a storm cloud. As we watch Trevor (Ben Foster in an amazing standout performance), an "at risk" kid, do what he has to to survive the rigors of daily life as an outsider, we are pulled into the pain of knowing that you don't belong. Several films (the entire John Hughes teen catalog comes to mind) turn outsiders into wretchedly noble characters and their popular and good-looking enemies into wicked brats with inferiority complexes. This one doesn't. It goes right to the root of Trevor's anger and shows how indignation and observation turn into a very rational and almost justifiable form of evil.
Can art redeem him? His do-gooder teacher Val Duncan (Tom Cavanagh, earning his acting chops here after showing his charm in "Ed") certainly hopes so. He casts Trevor for the lead part in the school play he is producing because he is perfect for it. This causes a stir among the student body, the faculty, Trevor's parents, and even within Trevor himself. You get the feeling that he is more concerned with the integrity of his production than potential controversy or consequences. There are even times when you feel like it is his strange, tough-love way of getting Trevor to face his demons head-on.
This is a film that adolescents, teens, parents, teachers, and principals need to see. In its own way, it moves you to hushed, contemplative silence, much the way "Saving Private Ryan" did. At the end of both, you know you have seen something that cuts to the bone, and you have to respect their power and vision.
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