Mean Creek Jacob Aaron Estes

On evidence of this film, I'd call Jacob Aaron Estes a very, very, very good director and a passable screenwriter. One of those loss-of-innocence numbers that usually coincides with a first feature, Mean Creek deals with a small-town revenge plot against a local bully (Josh Peck) after he beats up the brother (Rory Culkin) of the wrong bitter teenager (Brad-Pitt-in-embryo Trevor Morgan). Backed up by a group of friends, they lure their fat and lonely prey out to the woods with the intention of leaving him there, but then begin to feel sorry for him, except for cruel Morgan, who precipitates the actions that will turn the prank into a tragedy. It's hard to fault the gorgeous sun-dappled images and the fluid cutting that capture the downriver drift of the characters; it's also hard to take seriously the script's shaky grip on realism, from the laboured cruelty of Morgan's character to the what-we-did-was-wrong hand-wringing after the bad deed goes down. But though the story has red arrows attached to make sure we get the point, the imagery is so subtle and persuasive that you can forgive it some of its more flagrant narrative violations. Should Estes find a better editor for his scripts, he could become a force to be reckoned with; for now, we've got a movie tailor-made for cynical high-schoolers who want to feel as though they can see through the lies. You know the ones I'm talking about. Included is a commentary with the director, cinematographer Sharon Meir, editor Madeline Gavin, and cast members Peck, Morgan, Ryan Kelley and Carly Schroeder; it's refreshingly on-issue, and peppered with smartass remarks by Peck. A gallery of absurdly detailed storyboards rounds out the platter. (Paramount)