Review: The Education of Charlie Banks (2007)

Education of Charlie Banks

Directed by: Fred Durst
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Jason Ritter, Chris Marquette

Ever since he was a little boy, Charlie Banks had both inexplicably admired and undoubtedly feared the infamous, streetwise Mick Leary. As Charlie’s lifelong cohort Danny eventually befriends Mick as all three of them enter adolescence, a seemingly unavoidable rendezvous at a high school party forces Charlie and the infamous troublemaker to get acquainted. Shortly thereafter, an unspeakable act of violence is committed on Mick’s part against two other young men, almost killing them in the process. Having seen the whole thing play out in front of his very eyes, Charlie goes to the cops with this information, only to back out at the last minute when it comes time to testify. This decision haunts Charlie for years until Mick pays both him and Danny a surprise visit at the college they both attend. The question that arises now is this: Is Mick there to seek revenge on Charlie, or is there something more to the equation?

Yes folks, it’s true, the man behind some of the worst music ever produced has decided to try his hand at directing a feature-length film. But, surprisingly enough, the Limp Bizkit frontman’s debut isn’t half bad; hell, I’ll even go so far as to say it’s quite an enjoyable piece of cinema. This isn’t to say that the film doesn’t come without its fair share of flaws; it most certainly does, but given the circumstances, I found it easy to, in my heart, forgive Durst for some of the mistakes he made along the way, but certainly not all of them.

To begin, many have openly criticized The Education of Charlie Banks for being overly earnest in such a way that the film essentially transforms itself from heartfelt coming-of-age drama to an overly dramatic mess, and with this point, I agree. What Durst tries to do in this regard is take an unnecessarily artistic and ambitious approach to an already intriguing premise, providing us with a hodgepodge of ridiculous music in an attempt to evoke the emotions he more or less wants you to feel throughout the film’s duration. Granted, the music featured is appropriate at times, but the overall lopsidedness of the film’s tone tends to take away from the central focus surrounding Mick and his actual intentions upon reuniting with Charlie at college. However, there are key moments that help put Charlie Banks back on the right track, even if a majority of them don’t occur until the latter half.

Peter Elkoff’s screenplay suffers from the same sort of inconsistency as Durst’s direction, most notably in the form of a sometimes laughable script rather than a penchant for being a tad overdramatic. In fact, the film moves along at a rather excellent pace, and a good balance between intense, inevitable conflict and moments of heartfelt companionship exists and runs at full throttle. That is, until its slightly awkward conclusion that’s clever and satisfying in its own right, but ultimately loses a small bit of its appeal due once again to Durst’s clumsy direction.

What ultimately saves Charlie Banks in the long run is without a doubt the performances put forth by some of the best young actors in the business today. First, there’s Jesse Eisenberg, always a delight, who really shines here as a young man truly haunted by the “boogeyman” that is Mick Leary and the severe consequences he could potentially face sometime in the near future; displaying some genuine emotion during the film’s more dramatic sequences. With him comes his onscreen best pal Danny, deftly played by Chris Marquette, and of course, who can forget Jason Ritter, son of the late John Ritter as Mick Leary. What Ritter brings to the table here though can’t necessarily be characterized as full-blown charisma, as overacting manages to push its way to the forefront of my thoughts. This isn’t to say his performance is unbearable; it’s very enjoyable, I just wish he could’ve remained a tad more consistent when faced with the aforementioned moments of conflict between his character and others.

Seeing as how this write-up is becoming what most would call “long-winded,” I’m just going to say that Fred Durst’s directorial debut is a promising one, despite a perpetual unevenness of tone and an occasionally lackluster script. But, with the help of a pretty terrific cast and several other redeeming qualities, The Education of Charlie Banks manages to squeak by as an acceptable entry into the world of cinema.

Rating: 7/10

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