On the Edge
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On the Edge

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Teen angst has been a perennial favorite of the movie industry. As with most genres, the quality can range widely from Rebel Without a Cause to the current rash of sex and drug soaked films popular today. Between these two extremes come a few little independent films such as ‘On the Edge’. Rated very high in numerous film festivals promoted Universal to make the excellent decision to take on the distribution of this gem. As with many Indies, the plot is simple enough to maintain interest and showcase the talent but not so simplistic as to permit the audience to second-guess every move. Cillian Murphy plays Jonathan Breech, a young man in lower class England that at the tender age of 19 sees now future ahead. Bored of his life of one drunken fight after another and depressed over the death of his father Jonathan steals a car and drives it over a cliff. With an irony that real life often holds he survives with his only injury being a broken pinky finger. Faced with the choice between jail and a mental institution he opts for the co-ed version of ‘Girl, Interrupted’. Jonathan finds himself in the midst of an in-patient ward of self-destructive young people. While he initially takes everything lightly he begins to find friendship with several other patients. His closest mate is Toby (Jonathan Jackson). The two steal off on a weekly basis to go to a local pub, raise a little cane and perform a bit of male bonding. Toby is also suicidal but the two young men find that their friendship helps each other. Jonathan also finds himself drawn to Rachel Row (Tricia Vessey). Rachel is a cutter, a disorder primarily found with young girls where they try to deal with the pressures of growing up through self-mutilation. In one scene Rachel asks Jonathan to hold her, ‘no exchange of bodily fluids’, and as he does they press together. As the sexual tension grows Rachel reaches out to a hidden piece of glass and cuts herself. At the center of this mix is the house shrink, Dr. Figure (Stephen Rea). He genuinely tries to help these misfits find a way to deal with the stress inherent in life. The story unfolds in a gentle, emotionally satisfying way that will captivate the audience. While not as fast paced as ‘Girl, Interrupted’, there are many of the same emotional scenes and sense of growth in the characters. It reminded me of another favorite film, Hal Hartley’s ‘Trust’ where two broken people learn to be whole together.

Most people will not recognize the cast of this film, the exception of Rea. That is a real shame. The talent presented here is top notch. Murphy is perfectly cast as the disturbed young Jonathan. He can balance the emotional challenge of playing the disturbed youth with the emotional growth of a young man learning to care about himself by first caring for others. There is the edgy, almost stereotypical London slum look to his character by he rapidly permits his character to grow out of that mold. He does not command the screen in the usual powerful sense; instead Murphy holds control of each scene with a quite presence that comes from his professional abilities. Vessey is another name that will be unfamiliar. She has had a bit part or two in some movies many have seen but here is her chance to shine. She has a frailty that surrounds her yet there is a deeply hidden self-confidence that Jonathan brings out. Vessey also has the most impressive eyes I have seen for a long time. There is a depth that transcends her young years that will reach out and grab you. The talent present in this tiny slip of a girl should carry her well into the mainstream films. Jackson plays the confused Toby extremely well. Many will be able to identify with his inability to cope with the pressures of the world and the changes going on internally. Here is another actor that is well suited to a good career as a character actor. All will easily recognize Rea. His 1993 work in ‘the Crying Game’ got him a best actor nomination with the Oscars. While is role as the doctor is not large it is important to the story. He does not portray the doctor as an authority figure but rather as a human being that truly wants to help these kids. In one pivotal scene Jonathan runs away from the hospital to help Rachel and the doctor instructs the gate not to stop him. He chooses the moral right over his responsibility provided by his authority.

The director John Carney has a few smaller films under his belt but this is his master opus. Here is a man with talent not only with his writing but a focused method in his direction. He paced the film in such a way that it flows organically. Your interest is glued to the screen not because of action or even the story but because of the way Carney demonstrates the growth of these characters. The framing is perfect, the lighting just right. Although he deserves big budget films there is a part of me that hopes he stays with independent projects. I don’t want to see this talent co-opted by the financial demands of the studio suites. I see him in the class of great Indy directors like Hartley, one of the group of people that can tell a very human story to other human beings. He gets this film to hit you on an emotional level like few films can.

The disc is not the type many DVD enthusiasts are used to. The focus is on the film and not the extras. There are production notes but little more. The audio is a well done Dolby 5.1 and DTS. The sound field is realistic and full. The combination of two six-channel sound tracks is a welcomed relief from the usual two channels found in many Indies. The video is a defect free anamorphic 1.85:1. Even in the nighttime scenes every detail is visible. With teen suicide at an all time high get this film, watch it with your kids and talk to them afterwards. This is a human, genuine film that deserves to be in the collection of every serious film buff.

Posted 5/3/02

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