Mean Creek(Paramount Home Entertainment, 1.25.2005)
Jacob Aaron Estes' Mean Creek is the first film in a long while to summon positive memories of John Boorman's Deliverance. Boorman's 1972 film is probably more responsible for the deplorable homosexual-redneck-maniac stereotype than any other. Unfortunately, this obscures its harshly poetic examination of masculinity in a world slowly losing touch with the fierceness of nature. Mean Creek, however, paraphrases Deliverance's central dramatic conceit -- a boat ride down a river that turns catastrophic -- and uses it as an exploration of morality and the assertion of power within groups. It doesn't necessarily break new ground in that respect but it explores its themes with tact and skill and the narrative has the electric charge of tragic inevitability in spades.
Estes' greatest accomplishment with Mean Creek is his way with his young cast. They have a jostling, roughhouse affection for one another that is palpably honest. If smaller, one-on-one moments with individual members sometimes seem contrived, they stick out only because the key moments work so very well. Of particular note is Josh Peck's extraordinary performance as George, a school bully invited on an ill-fated boat ride by a group of friends planning to exact prankish revenge. Peck's unselfconscious performance goes a long way in creating a character who's far from a monster, but not quite Prince Charming either, and the film would not be nearly as affecting without his efforts.
Paramount's DVD features a commentary with Estes, editor Madeline Gavin, cinematographer Sharone Meir, and actors Ryan Kelley, Trevor Morgan, Josh Peck, and Carly Schroeder which has a bit of dead air here and there but mostly stays on point. Most interesting, and consequently most frustrating, is Estes and Gavin's repeated references to material deleted from the final cut, none of which is included on the DVD. Apparently, many pages worth of repetitive dialogue was cut and mention is made of a lengthy sequence with William Mapother as a larcenous park ranger that, while understandably deleted, would have been nice to see in context of how the final film took shape. The only remnant of the sequence that survives on the DVD is one of the mere handful of storyboards included as the only additional special feature.
Special note should also be made of DP Meir's contribution. The film was shot in 24 days on Super 16 and, to Meir's credit, never once looks it: the DVD's anamorphic transfer is quite easy on the eyes. Editor Gavin also deserves kudos for the film's impressively fluid pacing, particularly in regards to the bravura boat sequence halfway through the film. Shot in just three days, this sequence took a month to edit, and these efforts truly paid off. It's so potent that the film doesn't quite reach the same height again. That's a tiny complaint, however, considering how much else it gets right. -- Jason Comerford