Learning Disabled

The Russian roulette comes about because the student psycho gunning for Garfield has been watching Michael Cimino's The Deer Hunter on TV. At first Yagemann and director Kevin Reynolds appear to be attacking meretricious violence in the media. As the scene grinds on, they seem to be paying homage. Reynolds, the director of Waterworld, uses "expressive" techniques as heavily and self-consciously as Cimino, also the director of Heaven's Gate. The visual contrasts and flourishes are melodramatic and obvious. The ominous dirty blues of Bed-Stuy give way to the oppressive off-white heat of Los Angeles. Upon his return to teaching, Garfield sees a fully occupied classroom as a literal blur.

Throughout, Reynolds's staging and camera choices tend to alienate viewers from the students, putting us behind Garfield's spectacles despite his crazed partial view. The result is to demonize youth and obfuscate the issues. This movie panders to the popular belief that vicious kids rather than cost-cutting state and federal governments are to blame for educational catastrophes. A truly daring movie about today's schools wouldn't merely attack young thugs' adoption of California state penal code 187 as a tag of honor; it would also attack their parents' love for Proposition 13.

Written by Scott Yagemann; directed by Kevin Reynolds; with Samuel L. Jackson, John Heard, Kelly Rowan, Tony Plana, Clifton Gonzalez Gonzalez, and Karina Arroyave.

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