Neil Young’s Film Lounge – Crime + Punishment in Suburbia



US 2000
dir Rob Schmidt
scr Larry Gross
cin Bobby Bukowski
stars Vincent Kartheiser, Monica Keena, James DeBello, Ellen Barkin, Michael Ironside
100 mins

Though it starts off alarmingly reminiscent of American Beauty by way of Pecker, Crime + Punishment soon asserts its individuality and ends up a surprisingly successful, if small-scale, variation on familiar themes.

Despite the title, and an opening quotation from Dostoyevsky, this Crime + Punishment bears only vague similarities to the classic novel. Instead of the books Raskolnikoff, we have Simone Skolnik (Mena Suvari lookalike Keena), a popular, successful high school student dating star footballer Jimmy (DeBello). Some of Raskolnikoffs characteristics are transferred to the other principal character, geeky outsider Vincent (Kartheiser), who not-so-secretly lusts after Simone, spying on her house and taking endless photographs from the bushes.

Vincent suspects that Simones perfect public image hides a tormented, rebellious personality, and he’s soon proven dead right. While her boorish stepfather (Ironside) boozes in front of the TV, her mother (Barkin) grows increasingly dissatisfied, eventually finding solace in the arms of bartender Chris (Wright). When stepdad finds out about the affair, his violent reaction sets in motion a chain of events that soon erupts into bloody murder

Crime + Punishment has been criticised for its flashy visual style, but this misses the point. The movie reflects the psyche of its principal character, perpetual observer Vincent, and its just the kind of film his type of moody, gothy, MTV-influenced outsider would come up with. His view of the other characters is slightly distorted, and he’s always freezing time with his camera lens. Director Schmidt does exactly the same thing, his music-video flourishes thus falling just the right side of excess. He pulls off some notably strong effects by manipulating film speeds fast during the murder, slow during a cheerleaders pep rally that ends up like out-takes from Triumph of the Will.

Bukowskis luminous cinematography makes the most mundane suburban settings seem mysterious and full of untapped potential, and he also deftly modulates focus – there’s usually some area of the frame that’s just a little fuzzier than the rest, as if what were seeing wasn’t mean to be taken 100% literally. Its possible that the film isn’t just a reflection of Vincents personal aesthetic, but also a representation of his fantasies it starts with what is presumably a dream of Vincent and Simone sweatily getting it on, or perhaps its a flashback as, by the end, everything has worked out exactly as Vincent would have wanted it.

The cast is uniformly strong, but its relative newcomer DeBello who surprisingly takes the acting honours. His Jimmy is perhaps the dumbest dumb jock in cinema history, brow almost permanently furrowed as he realises he’s no match in every sense for his force-of-nature girlfriend. DeBello somehow manages to transform this thankless secondary role into the most watchable thing in the movie its an expert comic turn, making most impact when he’s saying and doing least, just silently struggling to keep up as conversations and events spin bafflingly out of his control.

2nd February 2001

by Neil Young