Strangely, however, Durst's career has been hit with a severe case of chronological fatigue. Last year, Durst directed Ice Cube in the lethargic teen-football weepie The Longshots, which would make him a filmmaker only in so much as he knew how to turn on a camera. That was his second film, however. His first film, The Education of Charlie Banks, premiered at the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival to mostly favorable reviews but didn't receive U.S. distribution. That is, until earlier this year, when Anchor Bay picked up the tab.
Spanning a decade or so in the life of the titular nebbish (Jesse Eisenberg), the film begins in the early '70s when Banks first lays eyes on Mick (Jason Ritter), a tough kid who's become something of a neighborhood legend. For a brief interim in high school, the two meet again for a moment before Mick beats two "fucking rich kids" within an inch of their lives. Banks rats on him only to later recant under fear of Mick's retribution.
Years pass and Banks goes north for college with best friend (and Mick's good friend) Danny (Chris Marquette), only to find Mick sitting on his bed one day when he returns from class. One would expect a psychological tête-à-tête to unfold, but it doesn't. Mick has all but forgotten the rat who snitched on him, and these privileged so-and-sos take him under their wing like a wounded animal. Soulless gadabout Leo (Sebastian Stan) wants to style Mick like himself, while Banks' knock-out crush Mary (a very good Eva Amurri) wants him for a few months of slumming before she eventually ends up with Charlie.
Class consciousness and warfare are alive for the majority of Durst's film, and Mick's assimilation, if not his gradual friendship with Charlie, keeps the film engaging and focused. At times, Banks feels structured like a horror film, with Mick as the monster unable to fully acclimate to his surroundings and finally acting out. You can even see something of a King Kong in Mick's hooded gaze. More than De Niro or Brando, Ritter is reminiscent of a young Matt Dillon who similarly played monsters of a sort, though far more lovable ones, in The Outsiders and Rumble Fish. It's a perceptive and gripping performance.
But Durst and screenwriter Peter Elkoff slip into heavy contrivances in the film's final quarter (again, shades of Rumble Fish) involving a murder back in New York City. Stuck somewhere between Bret Easton Ellis and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Durst's film has sure-footed tone and mood, but it falls short of provocation. A third feature will be a deciding factor in where Durst's allegiances lie as a filmmaker, but at the very least, Education proves that there's more going on in Durst's head than chocolate starfishes and hot-dog-flavored water.
Someone's gonna get schooled.
In Theaters: Friday 27th April 2007
Distributed by: Anchor Bay
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 47%
Fresh: 14 Rotten: 16
IMDB: 6.7 / 10
Director: Fred Durst
Producer: Marisa Polvino
Screenwriter: Peter Elkoff
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg as Charlie, Jason Ritter as Rick, Eva Amurri as Mary, Chris Marquette as Mick, Sebastian Stan as Leo, Gloria Votsis as Nia, Danny A. Abeckaser as Arresting Officer, Declan Baldwin as Detective Lazaroff, Emily Boisseau as Girl In Danny's Class, Dennis Boutsikaris as Mr. Banks, Olivia Keister as Michelle, Amanda George as Glee Club Member