Greetings again from the darkness. The first feature film from writer-director Adam Dick is actually a full length version of his own short film (same title) from a couple of years ago. In it, he covers many of today’s hot topics: bullying, racism, white privilege, and gun control. No one can argue against any film that takes on these issues, and the filmmaker gets many things right in this low budget presentation.
David Dastmalchian (whose crazed eyes we first noticed in THE DARK KNIGHT, 2008) stars as James Lewis, a devoted English teacher who cares about students despite his own personal issues. Those issues include a rough divorce, anger issues, alcoholism, and a less-than-ideal childhood. Having been bullied himself as a youngster, he recognizes what his mirror image student is going through. Preston (Matthew Garry) is a shy, sensitive, intelligent student who has a knack for photography. Preston is also the target of school bully Tim Cooper (a talented Curtis Edward Jackson), a star athlete and son of powerful local community businessman Bernard Cooper (the always excellent Kevin Pollak). When Preston befriends Daniela (Esme Perez), she also becomes a target – this time of cruel cyberbullying.
During Lewis’ class, Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” provides literary symmetry to the student experience, especially when the focus is on Shylock. This is the most creative portion of the film, and it’s a film that does a pretty nice job of capturing the helplessness of meek students, as well as the lack of power a school official often has in such situations. The film and characters are at their best in those moments of fear, frustration and desperation.
What doesn’t work so well is Mr. Lewis as a vigilante. At that point, it feels like a fantasy solution to a real world problem. Still, there are enough solid points and performances to keep us mostly engaged … especially when Kevin Pollak (he’s worked consistently and quite well since the mid-1980’s) spews forth with privileged rich guy righteousness. Sure, it’s all a bit obvious and over-the-top, but there is some underlying truth here as well.
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