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Life lessons

Coming of age in Education of Charlie Banks
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  May 6, 2009

Charlie Banks main
FIGURING IT OUT Eisenberg as Charlie .

There are schoolyard bullies and there are schoolyard bullies. Likewise, some stories about them rise above the predictable. The title character of The Education of Charlie Banks isn't even given a noogie — confrontation is not his route to coming of age. This film unfolds the much more revealing drama of internal growth and conflict, as Charlie has to deal with trust, betrayal, and the uncertainties of character change over time.

The Education Of Charlie Banks | Directed By Fred Durst | Peter Elkoff | With Jesse Eisenberg + Eva Amurri + Chris Marquette + Sebastian Stan + Gloria Votsis | Strongheart Pictures | 100 Minutes | at Avon Cinema

The brief schoolyard bully scene takes place before the credits, as 10-year-old Charlie watches from a school bus when schoolmate Mick beats up a kid in the playground for tagging over his own tag. He looks up at Charlie with smug satisfaction. "Beats up" gives the wrong impression, though, because as he again demonstrates in the next scene, a drunken high school house party, Mick (Jason Ritter) is coldly efficient, kicking his victims in the head once they're down.

He put two boys in the hospital with that last fight — if a sucker punch and assault with a beer bottle can be called a fight — and Charlie (Jesse Eisenberg) doesn't think that's right. Nice middle-class boy that he is, he goes to the police as a witness and Mick is charged with attempted murder before Charlie changes his mind, refuses to testify before his identity is revealed, and the case is dropped.

We jump ahead three years, and Charlie is in an Ivy League school (played by Brown University). West Village tough guys are all in the past, and now he's among rich kids (private planes), clever banter ("You need to re-examine your isolation stance"), and off-target Woody Allen allusions ("It is depressing, but such small portions"). And who should show up to visit Charlie's roommate Danny (Chris Marquette) but their mutual homey Mick.

Mick is friendly enough to both of them, but his aggressive temper soon shows itself, and whether he still has a potentially lethal sadistic streak remains in question. Walking along with Charlie after a class he sat in on, Mick grabs him by the throat in overreaction to a remark, apologizing merely by lightening up and patting him on the back.

The class that Mick walked out of feeling so touchy had discussed Hannah Arendt's observations about "the banality of evil." When the professor asked for lesser offenses, Mick's contribution was the crime of being "a rat." Asked why, he replies, "Because a rat complicates a simple thing." Charlie avoids his eyes.

It's that sort of tension, from answers to questions hanging fire, that keeps The Education of Charlie Banks so involving. Mick is smart enough to fit in with this crowd, so that's not an issue. Clearly, he wants to be a decent person, or at least be regarded as one, which could result in the same behavior. From the first campus scene, when he insists that Charlie finish his homework before they all go out drinking, we see that he's not your alley variety thug, if a thug at all. And when it comes to appalling behavior, fun-loving Newport rich boy Leo (Sebastian Stan) eventually shows himself to have the heart of a mugger.

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  Topics: Reviews , Ivy League, Woody Allen, Hannah Arendt,  More more >
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