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Manic: The Damage of Uncontrollable Rage

Updated on March 18, 2012

I have on occasion considered working at the local juvenile mental ward. I want to work with kids wh0o need help, and who needs more help than kids with bipolar disorder, anger issues, or depression?

However, as this movie demonstrates, it's no easy task to help kids who have issues like that. All Dr. David Monroe (Don Cheadle) can hope for at the end of the day is that the kids he works with will learn to see the world a little less bleakly or will try a little harder to control themselves enough to keep from pulverizing everything around them in uncontrollable rage.

This is the issue with Lyle (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the newest kid admitted to Dr. Monroe's ward. He was committed after beating another teenager nearly the death with a baseball bat, and he walks around with anger just barely controlled. In the same ward are Michael (Elden Henson), who enjoys provoking others into fights, Kenny (Cody Lightning), a quiet 13 year old prone to near-catatonic depression, Chad (Michael Bacall), a bipolar kid who tends toward pointless defiance, Sara (Sara Rivas). an artist obsessed with freedom, and Tracy (Zooey Deschanel), a girl who in the daytime barely speaks but at nighttime shrieks her head off thanks to terrifying dreams.

The film basically consists of following these kids around the ward as they go about their daily business, play basketball, and go to group sessions with Dr. Monroe. Some get better, while others either don't improve or revert back suddenly.

All of the actors in the movie did a great job, particularly the main trio of Cheadle, Gordon-Levitt, and Deschanel. People mostly familiar with Deschanel's typical roles of loveable quirky girls will be surprised by her timid and bruised role here. Gordon-Levitt manages to seem both sympathetic and slightly terrifying, playing a character who cares for his fellow ward residents (particularly Kenny and Tracy) while simultaneously being only about a second from uncontrollable rage. Cheadle's role is perhaps the most complicated one in the film, playing a man who barely keeps his own frustration in check (in one memorable scene, he loses his patience and the results are truly disturbing) and who worries he isn't helping the kids under his care, all the while never giving up despite resistance from them.

The film is shot with a cheap digital camera, and it has a certain cinema-verite quality which makes it even more emotionally raw. It can get a little jittery and distracting at times, but all in all the documentary style of filmmaking works in the movie's favor.

All in all, I really liked this movie, even though it is mentally exhausting. If you can deal with watching kids who are barely keeping themselves from hurting themselves or others, you should check it out.

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