Bad Boys (1983)
The turbulent teen years have always been a rich source of material for films. There are movies that cover every aspect of these years from the blush of first love to really troubled young people. While each has its place the bad boy films have typically been more interesting. From ‘Rebel without a Cause’ to ‘Blackboard Jungle’ the bad boy has been one of the most enduring archetypes in cinema. One of the reasons is these films are a study in the most important decision any human being must make; what kind of person to become. For a young person there is the fighting pressure to run with the tough cool crowd or become a good, solid citizen. While most of us are not faced with as dramatic decision as the characters in films like this we all face dilemmas of morality at some time in our lives. There are elements of this theme even in such lighter musicals as ‘West Side Story’. The young boy in love must decide whether to stay loyal to his gang and fight to the death or let love win out. One of the better representatives of this genre is the 1983 film, ‘Bad Boys’. Don’t confuse this with the comedy by the same name; this is a dramatic look at teens in deep trouble. This is a film with a lot going for it. From the taut, tightly written script to the straight forward direction and the amazing performances this film will grab you and hold your attention. I remember catching a scene while surfing through the cable stations one night and I was frozen to that channel for the rest of the film. Admittedly this is not the best that the genre has to offer but it certainly is far better than most. Anchor Bay had a release of this film around since 2001 and this is basically a retread of that one. It would have been nice to have this film as the subject of one of their new special editions but this one is worth having as is.
Mick O'Brien (Sean Penn) is a typical sixteen year old living in the Bridgeport section of Chicago. This is a tough, Irish neighborhood known as a breeding ground for kids to get in trouble. It’s not as if Mick is a major criminal; most of his infractions have to do with petty theft, vandalism and fighting with a rival group of teenaged boys. Let’s face it, there is no way to gloss this over these kids are in street gangs. Directly opposed to the Irish gang are the boys from the Pilsen area of the city who are Latino. One of the lead members of the Latino gang is Paco (Esai Morales) who is in on a drug deal with a neighboring black gang. Mick decides that his best way for advancement with his peers is something big goes to rip off the deal. Gunfire soon breaks out and during the fray Mike’s best friend Carl Brennan (Alan Ruck) is killed. Mick gets in a car and drives off in a panic. He accidentally runs over and kills a young boy who happens to be Paco’s younger brother. Mick is caught, charged and convicted of the crime and because he is a minor sent to the Rainford Juvenile Correctional Facility. The term ‘correctional’ is extremely loosely used here. The place is little more than a high school specializing in advance crime techniques, intimidation and brutality. Once there Mick gets potentially dangerous Jewish kid, Barry Horowitz, (Eric Gurry) as a cellmate. Barry was sentenced for setting a bowling alley on fire to get back at some kids who bullied him. Mick knows that the only way to survivor is to take on the toughest kid there. In this case the designation goes to Viking (Clancy Brown) and his toady Tweety (Robert Lee Rush). Meanwhile, back on the outside Paco wants revenge for the death of his kid brother. He goes to Mick’s girlfriend, J.C. (Ally Sheedy) and rapes her. He is caught convicted and sentenced to the same facility as Mick. Needless to say this is not a warm and fuzzy reunion. When Mick hears about J.C.’s rape he is desperate to escape and plans a premature exit with Barry.
There is nothing glamorous about any aspect of this film. It is sort of the junior version of Oz in trying to tell the youth about the consequences for their actions. The heart of the movie is moral choices. Every action depicted here is a result of making the wrong choice even if it is the right reason. Paco knows that Mick was punished by society for his brother’s death but he decides to take out his anger towards Mick at an innocent, J.C. Mick knows that it is wrong to rip off another gang but he is more concerned with his hierarchal placement in his own gang.
Just before he took the helm here director Rick Rosenthal brought us the lamentable ‘Halloween II’. He deports himself so well in this movie that we can forgive him that indiscretion. He later went on to directing some action oriented television including ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ and ‘Smallville’. Here he paces the film to perfection. There is a natural flow from one scene to the next. He allows enough time for his remarkable cast to explore and develop their characters. His use of a steadycam for many shots was revolution back then and set the path for a lot of similar films to come. He cuts the film in such a way that no individual scene drags and each adds to the overall story development.
This film was a real training ground for some great actors. Sean Penn made a plash with ‘Taps’ and played the fool in ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’. It was this film that showed the audience that this young man would become one of the most powerful actors of his generation. The genius of his performance here is Penn gets you to care about Mick even though if your daughter ever looked in his direction you would immediately move to another state. He doesn’t play Mick for sympathy; he plays him for brutal realism. You want the character to reform at the end and finally make a good choice. Esai Morales is one of those types of actors who can play a leading man or add dimension to a character role. In this film he gives one of his best performances as Paco. He plays his role as both a counter balance to Mick and a mirror to him. Although the two hate each other they are more alike then they would want to admit. Clancy Brown is another actor who has incredible range. Because of his size and menacing screen presence he usually plays the tough guy or villain. Here he is just about the closest thing to pure evil the film has to offer.
Anchor Bay / Starz usually re-issue a previous released DVD with something extra. Unfortunately this is not the case here. This is the same as the 2001 release. The anamorphic 1.85:1 could be brighter but in this case it does fit the sullen mood of the film. The audio is presented in the original mono sound track which does get the job without flair. There is a director’s commentary track where Rosenthal goes into some of the decisions he had to make to set the tone of the film. This is worth while not only as some of the best early works of men who would go on to greatness it stands as an excellent example of its genre.