BAM Best Picture Profile: Mean Creek (2004)

Each year, I try and improve the site, and also try to find a new an hopefully creative and fun way to countdown to the unveiling of the year’s BAM Awards. Last year, I posted most of the BAM Nominee and winner lists (Any omissions will be fixed this year). However, when I picked Django Unchained as the Best Picture of 2012 I then realized I had recent winner with no write-ups. I soon corrected that by translating a post and writing a series of my own. The thought was all films honored as Best Picture should have at least one piece dedicated to them. So I will through the month of December be posting write-ups on past winners.

Mean Creek (2004)

There are a few things that can be said concerning the viewing of this film, considering what the IMDb cites as its release date, and the fact that I know I saw it at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema in New York upon its release; I can fairly guess that this was what is as close to a birthday movie as I had in 2004.

As opposed to some prior titles, this is not one that I had anticipated for a very long time, but one that I ad heard of in indie film previews of the coming summer slate.

In casting terms there are a few things of note in this film: One of the more notable appearances in the film is that or Rory Culkin. Aside from his participation in Signs there was not really a very noteworthy credit on his resume yet. Certainly nothing with the teeth this film has.

And teeth, in a figurative sense, is what this film comes down to. In a prescient plot Mean Creek deals with a group of kids who trick a bully into going on a boat ride, the situation and the fallout thereof allows each of the characters to show their true colors and different reactions to the moral dilemmas faced.

The film also deals enigmatically with the bully, in perhaps one of the strongest demonstrations of just how hard it is to get inside someone’s head. The bully in this case played by Josh Peck. This a departure for him at the time as he had just finished up his time on The Amanda Show and was about to being Drake & Josh; and it remains his best work to date.

Not only amongst these kids do you have one actor playing completely against his type but you also have a revelatory kind of performance and a mind-changing one: The revelation in this film is the work of Ryan Kelley, he playing one of the characters on the more sensitive side of the spectrum (in another great tough he’s the adopted child of a same sex couple, while that it not the focus of the film). This was the first in a string of a few great performances from him. The mind-changer being the performance of Carly Schroeder. Who at this point I only knew from her work on Lizzie Maguire. Her character on that show was supposed to be on the annoying side, but it was not standout work she did there.

Jacob Aaron Estes

Jacob Aaron Estes

These casting choices and performances owe a lot to writer/director Jacob Aaron Estes who not only imbues this film with a great situation rife with dramatic possibility and ripe for the character development that ensues, who placed his trust in this young cast and they delivered in spades. Had I had parity in my award categories at this time Mean Creek definitely would’ve taken the Youth Ensemble prize as I’m not even done enumerating the great performances within it.

Then you also have the foils, Marty and Rocky. They seem similar enough but do have a split. Scott Mechlowicz is a assured and spot on as the calculated type; I saw him in a lot of indie work around this time and this is I believe the best and most widely available of those films. Then with Rocky, played by the always great and frequently under-appreciated Trevor Morgan, you have a seeming tough guy who does have a conscience and and empathy as events escalate.

Mean Creek is perhaps one of the best most recent examples of how you needn’t have a high concept to be highly engaged in a narrative.