Matt (Matthew Johnson) and Owen (Owen Williams) are two best friends with a passion for film and filmmaking. Their latest project is a comedy about two guys getting revenge, Columbine-style, on a group of bullies at their school, called the dirties. What started as a funny school project, that gets brutally salvaged and censored by their school principal soon turns into something more for Matt. While Owen seems to be able to cope with the bullies, and is more interested in pursuing his crush Crissy (Krista Madison), Matt is slowly, but surely descending into madness and planning to terminate those that treated him like shit.
The Dirties is Matthew Johnson’s first feature, which he directed, co-wrote and stars in. Hectic editing, real-life, gritty cinematography and shaky cam characterize his oeuvre visually. The film is filled with cinematic references, culminating in one of the coolest end credits I’ve ever seen. Besides having great tastes in movies, both actors are excellent in their respective roles. While Matt is clearly the showy part that draws a lot of attention to itself, I found myself especially enjoying Owen’s more subdued and quiet performance. The supporting cast is excellent as well. After a brisk start, the film loses a lot of it’s speed, as it gradually moves into more serious territory. The tonal shift is handled satisfyingly, however some of the plot elements keep returning and could have easily been cut out.
Bulling is a sensitive subject, treated with a lot of wit, but also seriousness in The Dirties. The film’s heart is in the right place, certainly because of the influence of all the films mentioned (Gus Van Sant’s Elephant). The directors Johnson loves (Tarantino, Spielberg, Coppola(s), Jonze, Anderson, Allen, Kubrick, Aronofsky and so many others) all have one thing in common: Their attitude towards film and filmmaking. “A film’s attitude” may sound like a weird concept to even discuss, but it’s part of what makes the movie work so well and also makes you want to forgive and forget certain plot contrivances and flaws in the script. It’s a movie. It knows it’s a movie. It wants you to know that it knows, but not in an annoying and judgmental way like so many art house directors like to do. My favorite parts of the film remain the humor, Williams’ performance and the genuine love for cinema.
Rating on First Viewing
(at the Locarno Film Festival)
7.5 out of 10