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Thirteen

review by Zach B.

 

 

MPAA Rating: R (For drug use, self destructive violence, language and sexuality - all involving young teens)

Running Time: 100 minutes

Starring: Evan Rachel Wood, Nikki Reed, Jeremy Sisto, Brady Corbet, Deborah Kara Unger, Kip Pardue, Sarah Clarke, D.W. Moffett, Vanessa Anne Hudgens, Jenicka Carrey

Written by: Catherine Hardwicke & Nikki Reed

Directed by: Catherine Hardwicke

 

Studio: Fox

Retail Price: $27.98

Features: Audio Commentary with Director/Co-Writer Catherine Hardwicke, Co-Writer/Actress Nikki Reed, Evan Rachel Wood and Brady Corbert, Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary from Director/Co-Writer Catherine Hardwicke, The Making Of Thirteen, Theatrical Trailer

Specs: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, 1.33:1 Full Screen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Surround, Spanish Dolby Surround, English Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selection (28 Scenes)

Released: January 27th, 2004

 

 

Now here's a different kind of "teen" movie for you. Sure, it has some young girls running amok. And sure, it has partying, drinking, drugs and sex. But what makes "Thirteen" a much different movie about teens is that it's not really a teen movie at all. This isn't guilty pleasure schlock my friends, but rather a powerful and unique coming-of-age drama that's meant for a much more mature audience.

Over the course of four months, "Thirteen" follows a 13-year-old California girl named Tracy Freeland (Evan Rachel Wood). When Tracy is first introduced, she's a compassionate if insecure middle school girl who spends her time studying and who continues to cope with the divorce of her parents. Tracy lives with her brother and her Mom, Melanie (Holly Hunter) who is a struggling single mother who runs a hair salon out of her home and is a recovering alcoholic.

Some of Tracy's insecuirity comes from her yearning to be accepted by her popular peers, led by the manipulative Evie (Nikki Reed). For girls who are 13, they sure look and act a lot older. Tracy wants to befriend these girls, and is willing to dress skimpy and turn her personality around to fit in. It begins with some petty theft to win over Evie, but soon Tracy begins a downward spiral of drugs, self-mutilation, alcohol and sexual activity. As Melanie's relationship with her daughter grows much more distant, can Tracy be saved from her new lifestyle and find some redemption?

"Thirteen" has been receiving a lot of attention for a lot of different reasons. The talk started when it debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in early 2003 (where it garnered a directing award) where the film garnered a lot of publicity in its incredibly frank portrayl of young girls doing all these illegal, even fatal, things. It's a film that certainly shocked audiences and made them talk about what was going on in the film, and if pre-teen rebelling on such a drastic level actually is a problem in America today. Have things really changed so much?

There's been a debate going whether the movie is actually "realistic" in its portrayl. If you scrounge the Internet, chances are you'll find a lot of people from all over America debating whether if this film portrays pre-teen girls in an accurate manner. Some say this could never happen to a pre-teen girl, while others recount their drug experimentation or their own friends' descents into hell. Personally, especially in this day and age where so much negativity is glorified, I see a story like "Thirteen" happening - and I'm sure it has played out many times in the past few decades. A lot of it depends though on circumstances such as how insecure one may be, how much they want to be popular, home lives, the area in which the person lives, etc. A lot of areas in America are much different than others as far as affluence, parental influence and the spread of illegal substances go. While it's true there can be supportive parents in the picture and a kid could go off the wrong track, parents are vital in anybody's life. That, and anybody can be insecure. A lot of people also want to fit in and want to feel comfortable with themselves. This really is a reason why the film is even more effective, regardless of any viewer's age.

On artistic merits, "Thirteen" got people talking for its production values and its performances. You've probably heard by now that the film was co-written by one of the films actors, Nikki Reed, a teenage girl who's father dated the film's director (also a production designer in Hollywood), Catherine Hardwicke. Reed and Hardwicke got talking, and Reed opened up to Hardwicke about her life - apparently a lot of this film is an autobiographical subject for Reed. There's been some controversy if Reed actually did write a lot the screenplay or if she really just contributed to it by telling Hardwicke about her experiences. Many think Hardwicke pulled most of the weight, but I really think it's hard for anyone to say.

Regardless of who wrote and structured what, "Thirteen" has an amazing screenplay since its a rather original coming-of-age story that strikes chords in the right places and for the right reasons. There is some great dialogue here, let alone believable, fully developed characters each facing their own problems. The story makes it clear why the characters feel the way they do, and what drives some of them. Seeing Evie's home and her guardian is not exactly a walk in the park, let alone Tracy's main insecuirity from her father who shows little interest in her. Hell, he even refers to her as as his "client."

But this is a movie that explores how easily influenced some of us are, the effects of our choices on everybody around us and how oblivious we can be to those who are the important to us. It is also a movie about the power of family. Even though Tracy's father is non-existant, she very much has a family with her brother and a mother who really does care. There are plenty of scenes that show so much and really mean a lot. The film's ending is pretty much perfect since it doesn't offer anything easy, it also reveals a lot of truth and hurt to the characters (just hear what Evie has to say).

I found "Thirteen" to be a very hard movie to watch. With that said though, I found every scene to be compelling as it all pushes the plot and characters forward. While I had to cover my eyes a little at times (some of it can be rather graphic), every aspect of this film intrugied me. I had no idea what direction the film was pulling me in and I kept expecting something even worse to happen. And sure enough, it did. This is a film that just sucks you in from the start, and moves along at a rapid fire pace that parallels Tracy's sudden and disturbing transformation. Those who think this is a film that was made just for shock value should reconsider that completely. This is a movie that is making statements, and those "shock" elements are meant to bind the story and explain things.

Hardwicke does an impeccable job of capturing the film's intense, raw emotions. Hardwicke filmed the movie with handheld video cameras, and it certainly makes a big difference in how the film comes across. While I wouldn't say the film felt like a documentary, especially since it has a very thorough narrative, the filming style made it feel all the more realistic as if you were up close and watching all this high energy come out right in front of your eyes. It does sound like a simple approach, but it's incredibly effective and even complex. A lot of the images really help you understand and reflect the film's flavor. A memorable scene that comes to mind is early on when Tracy and Evie look at one another, and rapid fire snapshots of each character come on screen to make a distinct contrast. There is nothing wrong with straight Tracy, but the scene makes it clear it's hard for her to resist those stylish clothes, the makeup and even piercings.

The acting is just plain brilliant and really brings the film to a whole other level. I've been a long time fan of Evan Rachel Wood and while she has gotten a lot of recognition before, her performance in this movie will still make people talk years from now. Wood is dazzling here and you just can't help but admire her and how she handles the character's transformation. This bold performance highlights just how much Wood can handle - from such high, powerful emotions to a quiet solitude and even a bitter nastiness highlighting her lonely feelings. And this girl acted in this movie when she was only fourteen.

There are plenty of fine supporting performances in this movie, but Nikki Reed really stands out. She makes Evie sly as another wounded soul with her own agenda. She makes the character rather sneaky and such a believable force that its no question why Tracy and even Melanie to an extent become enraptured with her. Holly Hunter, in her Academy Award-nominated performance, does a mesmerizing job as Melanie. Hunter does not overdo it and plays it low key for the most part. There is a tender loving and caring quality to her, but there are times when she needs support, grows upset and struggle to balance everything in her life as things grow incredibly dire. Hunter gives a very assured performance to an incredibly well meaning but questioning, self-concious character. It is a brave and strong performance. And on a different note, Mark Mothersbaugh chimes in a great score that fits quite well with the films themes.

"Thirteen" is definitely one of those movies that is not meant for all audiences. Despite its material and R rating, I would recommend younger teens watching this film with a parent. While it may scare the teens and overly influence guardians, I don't think that's the point - there's a lot to be discussed that this movie covers that is important to any family. This movie is unflinching in how its told, its performances and its emotions. There have been plenty of movies about the crazy tapestry known as adolescence, but "Thirteen" is a movie that is in an age of its own.

 

"Thirteen" features a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer on one side and a 1.33:1 full screen on the other. The source print looks incredibly clean which is a big plus, and this film is supposed to look a bit grainy and hazed on purpose given its own distinct style in how it was shot. The transfer keeps tabs on how it contrasts dark and light exteriors with some pretty shady interiors, and represents the film's look very well. Detail is very nice as are fleshtones, and color saturations are nicely put forth and look rather on target. There are some edge halos and slight edge enhancment, but nothing too major. I expected the picture quality to be a lot worse, and I was very happy to be surprised.

 

The Dolby Digital 5.1 track works fine for the movie but there isn't much to say about it. Given this is a character driven film with lots of talking, the surrounds don't add up to much. There is some life going on within the speakers during some of the more rough and tumble moments, but this movie is grounded in reality - kind of like the film itself. The sounds are placed well throughout the track, dialogue is pretty clear and easy to hear and everything comes through naturally to make you feel like you're right there with these characters even more. Sounds are not hammered at you and aren't explosive - they shouldn't be though, and I respect that. The 5.1 picks up with Mark Mothersbaugh's score and the film's songs - those rightfully have a hard edge. In all, a suiting experience. Also included are English closed captions, English subtitles, Spanish subtitles and Dolby Surround tracks in Spanish and French.

 

The main supplement of interest has to be the Audio Commentary with Director/Co-Writer Catherine Hardwicke, Co-Writer/Actress Nikki Reed, Evan Rachel Wood and Brady Corbert. For a pretty serious track, there's a lot of joking around to be had here. Nonetheless, there are a lot of insightful moments to be had here. Hardwicke talks about knowing Reed since she was five years old and her reasons in what appealed to her making this movie (interesting enough, Reed doesn't have much to say on this subject). There are some very interesting production stories on this track that gave a glimpse at some of the joys of independent filmmaking and some that are just amusing in general. The commentary has a lot of little tidbits, but it really deconstructs the movie in a pretty light tone, and it works wonderfully in that manner.

The Making Of Thirteen is about six minutes and is your usual promotion piece. Featuring clips from the movie and on-the-set interviews with Evan Rachel Wood, Catherine Hardwicke, Nikki Reed, Jeremy Sisto and Holly Hunter, it doesn't add up to much (and I'm not sure if I agree with Wood's claim that what the movie features "happens to every teenager" - insecuirity - yes, crazy antics that mean trouble - no). You're definitely better off with the commentary.

There are ten Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary from Director/Co-Writer Catherine Hardwicke. These scenes highlight a little more on the characters, but nothing that's already in the final film. Some are merely extensions are kind of alternate scenes, but they're worth a watch anyway. Hardwicke explains the cuts and it's hard to argue with her reasoning. The scenes are in non-anamorphic widescreen and total ten minutes and ten seconds.

Finally, there's the Theatrical Trailer (and a good one at that) in non-anamorphic widescreen.

 

"Thirteen" is an extraordinary film that packs some powerful punches. This DVD looks pretty great given how it was shot, the Dolby Digital 5.1 is adaquette and there are some pretty decent extras. Fans of the movie should pick it up, otherwise you should definitely check out this remarkable movie through rental.