Combustible Celluloid
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With: Anne Hathaway, Bijou Phillips, Shiri Appleby, Michael Biehn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Freddy Rodriguez, Laura San Giacomo, Mike Vogel, Raymond Cruz, Alexis Dziena, Channing Tatum, Johnny Vasquez
Written by: Stephen Gaghan, based on a story by Stephen Gaghan, Jessica Kaplan
Directed by: Barbara Kopple
MPAA Rating: Unrated/R for strong sexual content, nudity, pervasive language, violence, drug and alcohol use - all involving teens
Running Time: 92
Date: 06/26/2005

Havoc (2005)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Wreaking 'Havoc'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The phrase "straight-to-video" conjures up images of a wasteland of unwanted movies, dumped and resigned to oblivion sitting on a shelf. No one truly understands how a film goes straight-to-video, but it's mostly motivated by fear and money (or fear of losing money) on the part of movie executives. Not all straight-to-video films are worthless, as proven by Liliana Cavani's excellent Ripley's Game (2002) and Jacques Rivette's amazing The Story of Marie and Julien (2003), among others.

New Line Home Video has recently released another worthy title straight to video, and it deserves consideration as a "real" movie. Barbara Kopple's Havoc combines documentary realism and an exploration of modern teen behavior within an intensely erotic drama of racial tension.

In many ways, it's far more fascinating than three high-profile fall theatrical releases. Star Anne Hathaway gives a far more nuanced and intelligent performance than her tangential turn in Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain. Kopple's handling of different cultures is more perceptive than Rob Marshall's Memoirs of a Geisha. And Stephen Gaghan's original screenplay has a far better shape and flow than his new Syriana.

In her first grown-up role after The Princess Diaries and Ella Enchanted, Hathaway stars as Allison, a bored Los Angeles teen whose upper-class parents work far harder ironing out their own issues than spending time with their daughter. Instead, she hangs out with a gang of like-minded thugs, rich teens whose gangster posturing betrays an attempt to find something "real" in their artificial world.

One night, this band of teens rolls through East L.A. in search of drugs, leading to a confrontation with a Latino dealer, Hector (Freddy Rodriguez). Intrigued by his cool head in the face of danger (and repelled by her boyfriend's complete, cowardly meltdown), Allison and her best friend Emily (Bijou Phillips) revisit this neighborhood to learn more about him and his way of life. But one encounter too many brings down a harsh reality that she was unprepared to deal with.

Director Kopple is the two time-Oscar winning documentarian behind Harlan County U.S.A. (1977) and American Dream (1992) and she shows a healthy curiosity and generosity toward her subjects. She adds a peripheral character, another student interested in this subculture and making his own documentary about it. But even when the lonely and dangerous -- and astonishingly beautiful -- Allison tries to seduce him, he keeps his journalistic integrity and backs away.

This was writer Stephen Gaghan's first screenplay before he made the big time with Traffic (2000), and it's clear that he needs another director's vision to make his message-heavy themes flow. Kopple's own choices make Havoc a bit heavy-handed at first. But the more it delves into drama and character, the more deeply riveting it becomes. It's similar in many ways to James Toback's Black and White (2000), but more focused and without that film's sheer insanity.

DVD Details: New Line's DVD comes with a selection of trailers and subtitle options, but no other extras, which just goes to show how little faith they had in this decent movie.

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