Crime + Punishment in Suburbia

dir Rob Schmidt scr Larry Gross
with Monica Keena, Ellen Barkin, Michael Ironside, Vincent Kartheiser, James DeBello, Jeffrey Wright, Conchata Ferrell, Marshall Teague, Christian Payne, Nicki Aycox, Lucinda Jenny, Blake C Shields
UA 00/US 3 out of 5 stars

Review by Rich Cline
Loosely based on the Dostoyevsky classic, Crime + Punishment in Suburbia is a dark, brooding teen drama that effectively builds a sense of increasing moral confusion ... and clarity. It's a skilfully made film, fascinating to look at with superb characterisations and a first-rate soundtrack. And yet it's just bit too murky to really keep us in there.

Rosanne (Keena) is the most popular girl at school; she dates the star football player Jimmy (DeBello) and is the object of affection for the voyeuristic fringe-kid Vincent (Kartheiser). At home, Rosanne's mother Maggie (Barkin) barely puts up with stepdad Fred (Ironside), preferring instead to go out drinking with her best friend (Ferrell). One night Maggie meets a new man (Wright) and starts a chain of events that brings out the worst in just about everyone around her--with deeply complicated moral implications that will need to be set straight before anyone can get on with what's left of their lives.

The fact that the film tackles morality head-on is notable, especially since it does so in such an askance way through clever, thoughtful, very well-played characters. Kartheiser is excellent as the film's ethical centre--a flawed hero and the only character who faces right and wrong in an honest way. Keena (who's a cross between Alicia Silverstone and Kate Winslet) is excellent as the very troubled Rosanne, hugely popular and yet torn to bits inside. Schmidt directs with a real feel for the environment--the desolation of the suburban landscape, the echelons of teen and adult society--while edgy musical rhythms provide a terrific tone to the film. Yes, it's all steeped in melancholy, which makes it drag badly from time to time, even though it's a compelling, gripping tale. But as things come together at the end, there's a redemptive twist in the tale that makes the film startlingly refreshing ... and worth the journey.

[15--themes, language, violence] 12.Oct.00
US release 15.Sep.00; UK release 17.Nov.00

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2000 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall