BANG BANG, YOU'RE DEAD
Cast: Ben Foster, Tom Cavanaugh
Writer: William Mastrosimone
Director: Guy Ferland
Broadcast: 13 October 2002
Showtime, 2002, 93 mins., Unrated
Thank Goodness for End of the Decade lists. Some reviewer will include a title on their list that you had no inkling even existed. Nick over at Random Ramblings of a Demented Doorknob had such comprehensive Decade lists; one of said lists included this little known gem, Bang Bang, You're Dead, a movie that's as gripping and intense and perfectly acted as you can imagine.
We're immediately introduced to Trevor Adams (Foster), a social outcast and subject of much gossip and anger amongst the community. Months before, Trevor made a bomb threat towards the football team; as it is, the bomb was non-functional, with no explosive inside. With his integration back into high school, the source of many a parents grievances, Trevor must endure anger management therapy, periodic bag & locker searches, and is the source of blame for any and all things. The only teacher who seems to have his back is Head of Drama Department Val Duncan (Cavanaugh), who casts Trevor as the lead shooter in the school's production of Bang Bang, You're Dead. Suffice it to say, the play faces some obstacles from the community, and Trevor is the prime target. Meanwhile, he finds himself entangled with Trogs, the school outsiders, who set their sights on completing what Trevor started.
Best drama of the decade? Not sure, but it sure as hell was dramatic. The phone rang several times, and if wasn't for my needing to find job #2, I probably wouldn't have picked it up; this movie is not only dramatic, but it's so intense hardly a distraction can cause you to turn away. I was constantly engrossed in the situation, the dialogue, the acting nuances, formulating miscellaneous ways this flick could end (FYI, it didn't conclude remotely how I thought it would), what things could possibly go wrong, etc., etc. There were several scenes that caused me some rather cold chills: as Nick mentioned, a sequence where faculty, police officers, and parents watch a video Trevor shot of all the bullying and teasing around the school - it's chilling, beautifully edited together to evoke just the right sucker punch emotion. It really hits you in the chest. Another scene, near the end, where Trevor has to make a choice, and by that point, I certainty didn't know what that choice would be. The drama and tension of watching him struggle with right and wrong. Similarly, a scene where Mr. Duncan urges Trevor to get to the foundation of the Josh character (the shooter in the play), and Trevor is forced to confront his own dark soul.
From a acting standpoint, this movie is a solid goldmine. Every single actor, from a role large to small, brought their A game. In fact, I would argue that this was no more a movie than a documentary. It was as if a camera crew followed Foster around - who wanted to take a unprecedented leap of method acting - in a high school, and filmed all the shenanigans and crap that goes on their [coming out of high school myself, I can vouch for about 75% of everything that happened in this movie; nearly identical to my school years at White Bear]. If there was just one negative aspect I could grudge out of it, it's that Foster was a little difficult to read from time to time. I couldn't quite get a fix of who Trevor was, where he was mentally, things of that nature; but for all I know, it was a deliberate and calculated performance agreed upon by Foster and director Ferland.
Another performance that deserves high praise is that of the nearly-always-fantastic Tom Cavanaugh. I can't think of a production with him in it that I haven't liked, or at least his performance. I still recall that show he was on about a record label, Love Monkey or something like that? It was on ABC. I know, irrelevent, but point is: Tom Cavanaugh is 'da bomb! And finally, the Principal (of all people!), played to perfection by Gillian Barber, deserves quite the amount of accolades. The above mentioned sequence involving parents, faculty, and police alike watching Trevor's video, what the principal does and says after that is heart crushing but simultaneously satisfying; I was rooting for her character, a character who we're supposed to not love so much.
Aside from performances, kudos must be given for making the most realistic replica of high school life, dialogue, and mannerisms that I've ever seen on film (next to actual documentaries, of course, but those sometimes even seem like the teens are catering to the camera). The community responded to Trevor's re-enrollment exactly as I expect a community would; the parents of both Trevor and other high schoolers did their roles authentic justice; there's even a recurring teen character that gets bullied at several parts of the movie, and it's a little freaky how close that is to reality.
There's been plenty of movies and TV shows centering on 'troubled' students and their potential threat level to the community and students. Three seasons ago The WB's One Tree Hill tackled this subject. And on the non-film related spectrum, acclaimed novelist Jodi Piccult came out with Nineteen Minutes, a book dealing with the aftermath of the shooting while revealing bit by bit, via flashbacks, what happened in those 19 minutes. One thing that Bang Bang has that none of these or other unmentioned writings features, is the sense of jeopardy. Another testament to great performances and equally magnificent writing, I firmly believed that anything can happen, and inevitably would happen. That's another beautiful feature about the movie: it's entirely happy staying in the gray area of morality; there's no Christian 'right and wrong', there's just the messed up reality we live in.
The film's last minutes is a dramatization of the Bang Bang, You're Dead play, which originated back in '99, and it's as gripping as the movie itself. The dialogue, the chanting of the deceased students circling the alive and maddening shooter, the stage direction - it's great stuff, and I'm immensely pleased that it found it's way into the movie. In fact, a double surprise awaited me at the End Credits: actual performances of the play at school productions were shown to the left as the credits rolled. That was quite interesting to watch.
Bang Bang, You're Dead is drop-dead drama; the only comedy to come out of it are a few snide comments from teens in response to annoying parents or faculty members. I don't know how receptive schools would be to this flick, or the play itself (although a reported 10,000 schools have adapted this play for the screen), with such subject matter I'm sure they would argue would be more damaging to a threat's psychology. If my word means anything, and you're reading this so I presume it does (a little), this movie is highly recommended, and I'd suggest placing it the top of your Netflix Que ASAP.