"Black Circle Boys" Movie Review
Before I start the review proper, let me tell you a little about Alex Baranyi and David Anderson. (Trust me, guys; this is going somewhere.)
In January, 1997, the entire Wilson family was murdered. Police found the bodies of daughters Kimberly (20) and Julia (17), and when they went to notify the parents, they found William and Rose Wilson beaten to bloody pulps, as well.
This all happened in Mercer Island; a neighborhood just east of Seattle which is the kind of place that's usually referred to as "the quiet community of..." Meaning it's one of those upper-middle-class neighborhoods that's relentlessly clean, tidy, Caucasian, and heterosexual. In other words, it's the sort of place that evokes in me a powerful sort of existential despair, even though I myself am Caucasian and heterosexual. To modify a now-famous Due South quote: I've BEEN to the suburbs. Trust me; NOTHING could survive there.
Two days after the murders made the papers, a classmate ratted out Alex Baranyi and David Anderson. Alex and David were the sorts of kids who hang out at Dennys all night, smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee until the small hours of the night, talking all SORTS of crap. Which, personally, is one of my favorite hobbies; but that's neither here nor there.
Alex and David were roommates. They wore trench coats. No one at school liked them. They watched "Highlander" a LOT. We're talking the movies AND the television series. They were heavily into role-playing games. They wondered what it would be like to take someone's life for real, and sometimes they liked to plot out the perfect murder, as a sort of dark little mental exercise.
So basically, up to this point Alex and David are... well, they're ME. And I'm not ashamed to admit that. Well, maybe a little. But I'll not hear bad words about "Highlander: The Series". Yes, I know it consists of only one episode, filmed over and over with different actors and dialogue and stuff, but that's not the point. Yes, I know Adrian Paul has a monkey face, but that's not the point, either. Yes, I know they shouldn't have killed off Tessa at the end of the first season, but there's no justice in the world.
Wait... where was I? Oh right, I remember now.
So anyway, for some ungodly reason, Alex and David crossed that line. They went out and killed the entire Wilson family in cold blood, with baseball bats and a kitchen knife. Although Alex Baranyi was sent to prison right away, David Anderson's trial ended in a hung jury, and they're working on a retrial as I write this.
For more details, you can check out the Seattle Times website -- just run a search in the archives under Alex Baranyi.
ANYWAY, "Black Circle Boys" is loosely based on this true story. Very loosely, but more about that later.
The first thing I'd like to bring to your attention is that this is yet another fine offering from A-Pix entertainment. I have fond feelings for A-Pix; it's a production company I recognize by name. They make bad movies. Really, REALLY bad movies. Good old A-Pix!
The second thing I'd like to bring to your attention is that this film is a joint production of A-Pix entertainment and... (drum roll) Alliance Communications! No kidding! I swear, guys, I did NOT know that until I saw the intro credits.
Okay, now on to the review proper.
Even though I liked it a lot, I feel obliged to point out that "Black Circle Boys" is a textbook exercise in false advertising.
The first falsehood, of course, is the package itself, which leads you to believe that you're in for a "Little Witches," bad-teenagers-mess-around-with-black-magic-and-end-up-real-sorry-for-it kind of film. It's not. I'll tell you right up front, there is NO magic in this movie.
That kind of thing I could almost justify, but the second falsehood is simply inexcusable. Although John Doe, Mark "I have a third nipple" Wahlberg, and Lisa Loeb are all listed prominently on the cover of the box, their combined screen time adds up to about fifteen seconds. That's just cheap, guys. Next time, try "special guest appearances by," okay?
Now that we've gotten THAT out of the way, let me tell you that if this movie has any flaw, it lies in giving the characters too much depth and humanity.
I didn't really mean that the way it sounds.
I mean that, if you're going to say you've based a movie on the Alex Baranyi case, base it on the case. Alex was a priveliged kid from a nice background; to say "based on a true story" and then turn around and write the screenplay so that your Alex is an abused kid living with his psycho militia gun nut father in a shack in the woods... well.
I have standards (I do, I really do... they're LOW standards, mind you, but they DO exist) and frankly, this fails them. It's... it's just WRONG, although I can't quite put my finger on WHY, even though I've been thinking about it all week.
But if you can just ignore that "based on a true story" tagline that appears briefly at the very beginning of the movie, here's what you'll find:
You'll find the most realistic teenagers I've ever seen in a movie. Bar none. These kids take any kind of drugs they can get their hands on, they dream of starting a band (even though none of them can play instruments -- they consider this to be a strictly secondary concern), and they start their own little coven to worship Satan in a desperate attempt to get power. ANY kind of power.
At the same time, the script and the performances are so sublime that there's NO romanticizing of the characters. They're scruffy and socially-unacceptible, and they make stupid choices, and they don't understand why they're doing what they're doing, and they know that they WANT something but they don't know what it is yet, and the whole thing just broke my heart. Seriously.
Each of these kids has been burdened with a grown-up tragedy, but since they're not grown-ups, they're not equipped to handle it. And it pushes them away from their families, away from their friends, away from school, away from themselves. And having gone adrift from these cornerstones of private life, they give up and let the current of their despair drag them away from the cornerstones of public life.
And suddenly, even though they're surrounded by society like everyone else, these kids find themselves believing that they're completely on their own. To them, they've entered a desperate survival situation, one in which (to borrow a quote) fighting fair is fighting stupid.
They lose sight of why you're not supposed to take things from other people -- up to and including their lives.
And now we've circled back around to how "Black Circle Boys" differs from the Baranyi case. Alex Baranyi and David Anderson killed four people because they wanted to know what it would feel like.
Carver, the kid in the movie, kills two other teens because they betray him in what he thinks is a survival situation. From his perspective, he has to execute them to save his own life. He's wrong, of course, but it's a measure of the movie that you can totally see his point.
Well, this has turned out to be a lot longer than I thought it would, but before I wrap it up let me pass along one final hidden gem of the film. In a few rare moments of peace, Carver (played by Eric Mabius, who's so damned.... well, let's just put it this way; I really wish he was a little older, 'cause it makes me VERY uncomfortable to feel this way about a teenager) gives his buddy Kyle a quick glimpse into his soul. And you know what? He's not evil at all. He's a kid with a good heart who's desperate to find redemption, but he doesn't know where to look.
Carver used to find forgiveness from his younger brother, but his younger brother's dead now. In broaching the subject of his brother's death, Carver says "Did you ever have somebody that just... balances you out? Like whatever YOU are is completely balanced out by who THEY are?"
In my experience, you don't find many people like that in your life. Maybe only one or two. Consider the plight of a seventeen year-old kid who had a person like that, then lost him forever.
Carver later gives a really wonderful soliloquy about how his little brother used to keep him out of trouble. I've been staring at the monitor for ten minutes, debating about whether or not to include it here, but I've decided that probably no one's ever going to see this movie, and it'd be a crime to let this speech slip into obscurity without at least making an attempt to save it. So here it is, in its entirety.
Carver: When we were kids me and Ronny used to camp out in the back yard, you know? Late at night I'd sneak back in the house and steal eggs to go nail houses with 'em. Ronny'd be like, "do whatever you want -- I'm just gonna lie here and listen to the crickets." I'd be like, "okay, just for one minute." And boom -- I'd be out. I'd wake up, it'd be the next morning.
It's probably the wistful delivery, but that speech actually made me cry. Which for me is the ultimate test, because I can name the things in movies and TV shows that've made me cry on, like, one hand.
So there you have it. If it weren't for what boils down to moral objections (and I'll think that over and maybe write a second draft of this review one day) I'd give "Black Circle Boys" a full hundred points. But for me, a hundred-point score is more than a mathematical equation; it means that, were I to be given the power to do so, there's not one single thing I'd change about a movie. And right now I can't say that about "Black Circle Boys". So we'll leave it with...
Final score: 99
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