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by shahriar khan |

Crime and Punishment in Suburbia


The shadow of American Beauty would hang uneasily over much of the film (dysfunctional middle-class parents, adultery, high-school, voyeuristic alienated boyfriend) were it not for the fact that every time you see the similarity between Crime and Punishment in Suburbia and every other film of its ilk, writer and director Gross and Schmidt takes you inside all of the characters further than the other films’ makers do. For all of American Beauty’s force and finesse, the film ended without the protagonists being examined or examining the consequences of Kevin Spacey’s character’s death. You really got the sense that a whole other story was out there waiting to be told.

This movie isn’t waylaid by any grandstanding actorly or directorial flourishes bar a few trendy trendy ‘jagged’ edits and speeded-up shots of a flaring night sky. Nothing in Crime and Punishment in Suburbia forces you to look at one character in isolation from all the others. We see and are made to feel the consequences of all the characters’ actions on themselves and on others — the essence of Dostoevsky’s original work. Why it’s an enduring masterpiece. Times change, people don’t, do they?

Crime and Punishment in Suburbia falls someway short of being such a resonantly powerful work as its namesake, but scenes and images do linger. And the actors are uniformly excellent. Following her turn in Drop Dead Gorgeous, Ellen Barkin plays another multi-dimensional suburban hausfrau brilliantly, and Jeffrey Wright (Basquiat, Shaft) steals every scene he’s in. Even Roseanne’s jock boyfriend and co-conspirator Jimmy as played by James DeBello shows that he is more than the sum of his parts. Michael Ironside, usually typecast as the bull in so many china shops, skilfully invests his nasty step-dad character with some degree of tragic pathos.

This movie having skated a fine line between derivativeness of Dostoevsky and other movies of a similar setting, ultimately succeeds because of its honesty. People suffer real lives of hurt and despair. Like Dostoevsky’s Sonja, perhaps only clued-up souls such as Vincent (Vincent Kartheiser) who plays the conscience of the movie can get by. Naturally, this isn’t immediately obvious to us or to Vincent’s classmates, as the movie opens with him coming across as a hallucinatory peeping-tom masturbator. His power to redeem lost souls, like Sonja’s, is more than Christian. Vincent has a belief system, obliquely referred to as it is, and that it is what saves Roseanne Skolnik. For all its cool elements, this kind of thing is decidedly uncool, so the filmmakers have to rely on Vincent’s T-shirt to reinforce their point! Times change, messages don’t, do they?

Blessed with a winning couple of teenage leads, and a terrific indie-pop soundtrack one wonders how much of an impact American Beauty would have had if this film had come out before it. Crime and Punishment in Suburbia definitely deserves a viewing.

Director: Rob Schmidt
Producers: Pamela Koffler, Christine Vachon, Larry Gross
Screenplay: Larry Gross
DOP: Bobby Bukowski
Editor: Gabriel Wrye
Production Designer: Ruth Ammon
Costume Designer: Sophie Carbonnel
Cast includes: Monica Keena, Vincent Kartheiser, Ellen Barkin, Jeffrey Wright, Michael Ironside
Production Company: A Gia Films and Killer Films production of a United Artists release.
Distributor: Pathé
Country: US
Year: 2000
Length: 100 mins

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