by Scott Mendelson
The Education Of Charlie Banks is a film that succeeds at being good without really succeeding in being worthwhile. This directorial debut from Fred Durst (his second feature, The Longshots, was released late last year) is handsomely produced, exquisitely acted, and relatively well-paced. It works well-enough as a character study and a tone poem. But it is not terribly potent and lacks deeper meaning beyond surface thoughts regarding nature vs. nurture and whether or not people can change.
A token amount of plot: Charlie Banks (Jesse Eisenberg) witnesses an acquaintance brutally beating two students at a high school party. Stung by pangs of conscience, Charlie goes to the police, resulting in the arrest of one Mick Leary (Jason Ritter). However, he later changes his mind and recants his testimony. Flash forward three years, and Charlie is now in college, making new friends and exploring the opposite sex. Out of the blue, Mick pops up in his dorm room, wanting to hang out with Charlie and his roommate. Why is Mick here? Does he know that it was Charlie who ratted him out? And is Mic's sudden interest in the books, classes, and lifestyle of secondary education a ruse, or is this once violent thug trying to assimilate himself into a better person?
First and foremost, Jason Ritter delivers a revelatory performance as a lower-class street punk who is seemingly injecting himself into a higher social class. Ritter maintains a charismatic charm even as he remains always on edge, always seemingly about to lash out. The slow burn suspense is one of the highlights of the film. The rest of the acting is acceptable, and Jesse Eisenberg plays a vastly different young man than he does in Adventureland (this film was shot two years ago, so it's presumably a coincidence that it opens just a week before the higher-profile Greg Mottela project). I appreciated that Charlie's crush, and Mic's romantic conquest (Eva Amurri), is a real human being, rather than an idealized dream girl.
Although the finale skirts with that hoariest of climactic cliches, there is nothing particularly wrong with The Education Of Charlie Banks. It's a solid and surprisingly subtle directorial effort from the musician turned filmmaker. But it's also almost aggressively unremarkable. It is not a bad film, and it may even be a good film. But failed to make much of an impression and the best I can muster is half-hearted respect.