My overall score: 5/10
Brody performance: 7/10
Cast (opening credits order): Harley Cross, Karen Young, Dennis Boutsikaris, Adrien Brody, Gene Canfield, Moira Kelly
Written by: Catherine May Levin
Produced by: Louis Tancredi
Directed by: Juan Jose Campanella
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Running Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes
Rated: Not rated (would be “R”)
Full disclosure: The first time I watched this movie (last November), I basically watched Adrien Brody’s scenes. The second time (this summer), I skimmed through to get the gist of it. This time, I figured I needed to really pay attention to the entire film if I was to review it. So I did. Also, I don’t own this film (I’ve never found an official release), I watch it via YouTube (a VHS rip with Dutch subtitles).
In all honesty, this is a very unsettling and dark story and is hard to watch at times. It is almost a cautionary tale about being a more involved parent (and seeking help for your own issues, lest you pass down worse ones).
The film centers around Dan Love (Harley Cross), whom we can tell immediately is a deeply troubled young man. He and his brothers trash their home, drink and otherwise run amok while their mother (Candice, played by Karen Young) is largely absent. Dan verbally insults his mother with shocking regularity (he calls her “slut bitch” so often, it feels like her real name) and clearly has violent tendencies.
His mother has mental illness of her own which she has not properly dealt with (or perhaps even realized). She also seems to be completely devoid of any maternal instinct. She’s the type of parent who would rather throw money at a problem and hope someone takes care of it for her. In fact, her middle child, Mike (an excellent Jesse Bradford), at one point tells her she’s not a parent, she’s a bank.
Dan’s violent tendencies are nurtured by his boarding school’s maintenance man, Jim, a Vietnam veteran who clearly has unresolved issues of his own. Jim (Gene Canfield) is teaching Dan to use firearms and providing him with graphic images from the Vietnam War. Jim tells Dan he reminds him of his son, but we soon gather that Jim has less than honorable intentions in the relationship. Following an incident with Dan that leaves Jim frustrated, he randomly fires a rifle into a bedroom full of teenage girls. No one is killed or injured, but it’s a disturbing scene, nonetheless. He is hauled off to jail while yelling how the war isn’t over and how he’ll come back for Dan (in a “wait for me, my love” kind of way, not in a “you’re next!” kind of way).
Dan’s behavior deteriorates and his violent outbursts increase. He ends up attacking a classmate and is found by another in a trance-like state, grunting and banging his head on a wall. It is at this point that Dan is sent to a psychiatric facility for a 10-day assessment. It is there Dan forms a friendship with his new roommate Eddie (Adrien Brody), a boy with multiple personalities whom Dan soon convinces to stop taking his medication. He also begins a budding romance of sorts with Jessica (Moira Kelly), whose exact condition is a bit less identifiable (at times, it appears she is simply emotionally fragile).
Brody is excellent as Eddie: charming, funny, warm, and yes, mentally ill (he actually describes himself as “crazy” upon meeting Dan). As per usual, I believe Brody’s gifts are most apparent when he is silent. This is not to say there is weakness in his line delivery, because there isn’t. I just feel he is unique in his ability to convey a character’s feelings and motivations using only facial expressions. This skill is demonstrated very well in this role: we can almost see Eddie changing, long before he expresses it verbally. Considering Brody was only 18 when this film was released (and likely 17 during filming), his performance is quite impressive.
Eddie is removed from the facility by his father, who feels Dan is a bad influence. Jessica’s father soon follows suit. This leads to an even sharper decline in Dan’s emotional state, which Harley Cross portrays very well. We see Dan at once as a frightened and frightening character. Eventually (following an especially dangerous and somewhat surprising outburst), the staff at the facility tells Dan’s mother Candice (Karen Young) he likely needs to be committed to a hospital. She tries to get Dan into a resort-like private facility (of which we learn Eddie is now a patient), but he is rejected due to his history of violent behavior.
Candice’s decision, rather than have Dan committed, is to just take him home. This turns out to be another poor decision on her part. I’ll say no more to avoid spoiling the film’s end.
In summary, this film is a very dark and disturbing look at one boy’s poorly treated mental illness. Poor parenting (including a lack of both supervision and repercussions/discipline), abandonment issues (no contact with his father, losing his friends and love interest…), and a refusal of both testing and treatment, all lead Dan down a very dark road that he cannot turn back from.