- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 24, 2009

LOS ANGELES (AP) - “The Education of Charlie Banks” marks the surprisingly sensitive directing debut of Fred Durst, the lead singer of Limp Bizkit, whose hits include the oh-so-catchy “Break Stuff.”

Having directed music videos for his band and others, Durst displays a calm, sure hand here, an understated style with fluid tracking shots and long takes that allow the actors’ performances to speak for themselves.

He gets solid work from up-and-comers Jesse Eisenberg, Eva Amurri, Chris Marquette and Jason Ritter, which helps uphold the film when the script from Peter Elkoff bangs us over the head with its obvious themes.

Eisenberg stars as Charlie Banks, whose adolescence and college years have been defined by the neighborhood bully, Mick Leary (Ritter). As a boy in New York’s Greenwich Village in the early 1970s, Charlie sees Mick through the school-bus window, strutting at the basketball court. A few years later, Charlie watches Mick senselessly beat two guys at a party; he runs to the cops, but later reneges for fear of retribution.

Cut to about 1980, and Charlie and his childhood best friend, Danny (Marquette), are students at a prestigious university. Out of the blue, Mick shows up and crashes in their dorm room, having maintained a friendship with the worshipful Danny.



Mick’s arrival shakes up their collegiate idyll, which consists of long afternoons at the pub, smoking and drinking with the rich kids who’ve befriended Charlie and Danny: party-boy Leo (Sebastian Stan), Greek heiress Nia (Gloria Votsis) and Mary (Amurri), the daughter of a Connecticut senator.

While Charlie is rightly fearful of Mick’s volatility, the others find him charming and novel, like an exotic pet. They’re drawn to his dangerousness but they also revel in giving him a preppy makeover, dressing him in Polo shirts and teaching him croquet. All Charlie can do is watch and wait for the latest explosion, even as Mick moves in on Mary, the secret object of his desire.

Eisenberg is essentially playing the same character here as he did in the excellent “The Squid and the Whale” and the upcoming comedy “Adventureland.” Like Michael Cera, he’s got that likable underdog thing going, a combination of awkward shyness and quick wit. There’s a palpable tension to his scenes with Ritter, who’s reminiscent of a young Matt Dillon here in his looks and demeanor.

Mick’s unpredictability provides a constant source of suspense: Is he insinuating himself out of a true desire for friendship, or to seek revenge for a longtime wrong? Durst keeps us guessing about his intentions until the end, which is admirable, as is his restraint by not condemning the idle rich completely; they are who they are, flaws and all.

But all that intriguing ambiguity goes to waste when the dialogue and the classroom topics too literally reflect the characters’ lives. Mick starts reading “The Great Gatsby,” with its obviously parallel themes of class conflict.

The worst of all comes when Charlie explains deconstructionism to Mick, who has a newfound interest in academia. It’s about taking something apart and examining its elements, Charlie says: “You kind of reveal all the contradictions and inconsistencies, and you see that there’s no one truth.”

Class dismissed.

“The Education of Charlie Banks,” an Anchor Bay Entertainment release, is rated R for pervasive language, some violence, sexual content, and drug and alcohol use. Running time: 101 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.

___

Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:

G _ General audiences. All ages admitted.

PG _ Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

PG-13 _ Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.

R _ Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

NC-17 _ No one under 17 admitted.

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