R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Barbara Kopple
scr Stephen Gaghan
with Anne Hathaway, Bijou Phillips, Freddy Rodríguez, Mike Vogel, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Biehn, Laura San Giacomo, Shiri Appleby, Channing Tatum, Matt O'Leary, Josh Peck, Raymond Cruz
release US 29.Nov.05 dvd,
UK 27.Oct.06
05/US 1h25

The real world: Hathaway and Phillips

rodriguez vogel gordon-levitt

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Havoc With heavy overtones of Catherine Hardwicke's Thirteen, this story of rich teens way out of their depth is chilling and nicely played. But it feels like a cautionary after-school movie spiced up with sex and violence.

Allison (Hathaway) is part of a gang of gangsta wannabes at her posh Pacific Palisades high school. Blinging and strutting, they think they're so much more street-smart than the other kids. One evening Allison goes cruising with her boyfriend Toby (Vogel) and her best friend Emily (Phillips) into rough East L.A., where they have a tense encounter with a drug dealer, Hector (Rodriguez). Later, Allison and Emily decide to go back, drawn by this sexy, dangerous stranger. Will they realise before it's too late that this isn't a game?

The premise is clever and involving: teens encountering the subculture they're pretending to be part of. Every generation has its own form of rebellion, a fantasy that feels so real that we feel we'd rather die than conform to our parents' world. Even though conforming is precisely what we're doing. Gaghan's script captures this discrepancy cleverly, presenting realistic kids bristling with misplaced bravado, deeply naive and oblivious to what's really happening.

The cast dives in totally. Hathaway is especially willing to fling off the squeaky clean roles of years past as the surly, foul-mouthed, over-sexed Allison. And she's particularly good when she lets Allison's mask slip. The supporting roles are also good, but not nearly as complex (Gordon-Levitt is particularly wasted). Rodriguez registers strongest as a man who knows better, and justifies his desire to take advantage of these young women with the fact that they're begging him to do so.

Besides the story's cautionary message, the film works as a slow-burning thriller with surprisingly strong stings in its tail. Especially effective is revenge set-up in which the two gangs take astonishingly misguided charges at each other. And the film's most striking observation comes from Hector: "There's nothing real about you; you just get this from the TV." Which is a criticism that could possibly be levied against this film as well.

cert 18 strong themes, language, sexuality, violence, drugs 18.Aug.06

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© 2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall