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Fox Home Entertainment presents
Thirteen (2003)

Evie: How 'bout we make a Luke sandwich?
Luke: How about "you're jailbait?"

- Kip Pardue, Nikki Reed

Review By: Robert Edwards  
Published: January 25, 2004

Stars: Holly Hunter, Evan Rachel Wood, Nikki Reed
Other Stars: Jeremy Sisto, Brady Corbet, Debora Kara Unger
Director: Catherine Hardwicke

MPAA Rating: R for drug use, self-destructive violence, language, and sexuality—all involving young teens
Run Time: 01h:39m:53s
Release Date: January 27, 2004
UPC: 024543106586
Genre: drama


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ B-AA- C

DVD Review

A young, beautiful girl faces the camera in medium close-up. Even without the slight slow motion that exaggerates her facial movements, it's obvious that she's stoned. "Hit me!" she says, "I'm serious, I can't feel anything." And a hand reaches out and slaps her hard.

The girl in question is Tracy (Evan Rachel Wood), and she's doing whip-its (nitrous oxide) with her best friend Evie (Nikki Reed), laughing uncontrollably and testing how much damage her numbed face can take. The film rewinds to four months earlier to revisit the events that led to such extreme behavior: Initially dissed by Evie because of her little girl clothes, thirteen-year-old Tracy changes her wardrobe, and suddenly she's Evie's best friend and eager pupil in the ways of "bad" girls. It doesn't take long for Tracy to learn how to shoplift, do lots of drugs, get a couple of piercings, and engage in her first sexual experiences.

First time director Catherine Hardwicke, who co-wrote the original script with young actor Nikki Reed, paints a fairly convincing portrait of adolescence gone wrong in Thirteen. The characters, all of whom are slightly messed up and carry a lot of baggage, are well-written and interesting. Melanie (Holly Hunter), Tracy's mom, struggles to make ends meet, working as a beautician from their home, and attends "meetings," presumably AA. Tracy's dad is absent, but Mel's barely-verbal boyfriend Brady (Jeremy Sisto) has just gotten out of yet another halfway house to cure his crack habit, and moves in with the family. Evie herself has been abused as a child, and even Tracy has some pre-existing demons to deal with.

Tracy's descent is echoed visually in the film. Elliot Davis' hand-held camera work not only adds to the documentary feel, but becomes more and more whacked-out as Tracy slides into regular drug use. The color scheme of the film, added in post-production, gives a golden glow to Evie and Tracy's faces when they're at their happiest, only to switch to bizarre color combinations when things start to go wrong. When Tracy hits her lowest point, almost all the color is drained from the image, echoing the emptiness of her life. The film's portrayal of mind-altered states is neither more nor less successful than most films', although there is one sequence where the kids, smoking pot in the park at night, dance with abandon in back-lit sprinklers, which convincingly conveys the joy and glee that can arise while experiencing altered states of consciousness.

And the performances are excellent. Hardwicke took acting lessons for four years, and her efforts certainly paid off in the nuanced and complex performances she coaxes from her actors. Holly Hunter's depiction of Mel's pain, as she tries to understand and deal with the changes in her daughter's life, and her frustration at not being able to do so, is convincingly and viscerally realized. Evan Rachel Wood beautifully portrays both the joy and anger of a young teenage girl, and first-time actor Nikki Reed is good in a part that echoes events in her own young life. Even the secondary characters, Jeremy Sisto as Brady, and Brady Corbet as Tracy's brother Mason, create vivid impressions in their briefer time on-screen.

There are a few problems with the film. Although this reviewer is in no position to judge the actions (let alone the internal mental states) of teenage girls, it's hard to believe that the coolest girl in school would go from treating another girl with contempt, to being her best friend, just because she changes her dress sense. And there's an implicit conservatism in the film. Tracy's sudden switch from good little girl to wanton shoplifter and drug abuser seems almost as unlikely as those 1940s drug scare movies, where one puff of "the demon weed" turns an honest citizen into an axe-wielding maniac. The message that any drug use (including alcohol) is to be condemned is clear, which doesn't set well with Thirteen's supposedly non-judgmental stance towards its characters. And there's an implied criticism of single-parent families, as if kids from traditional nuclear families don't occasionally go off the tracks.

But despite its occasional over-simplifications, especially in comparison with similar fare such as Larry Clark's Kids, Thirteen remains a compelling portrait of early adolescence, its shifting friendships, influences, and potential betrayals. With its excellent acting and interesting visual style, it's definitely a movie to check out.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B-

 

Image Transfer

 OneTwo
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - P&S
Original Aspect Ratioyesno
Anamorphicyesno


Image Transfer Review: The image is slightly grainy due to the film's origins on Super 16mm stock. There's a lot of detail, and black levels are good. It's problematic to judge the accuracy of the colors, because of the extensive post-production processing of the image, but the transfer most likely conveys them well. And thankfully there's no edge enhancement.

Image Transfer Grade: A

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Spanish, Frenchyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The English 5.1 audio track has a wide range from the top end all the way down to deep bass, which adds enormously to this music-fuelled film. Voices and sound are convincingly integrated into the mix, and there's a reasonable amount of surround activity when appropriate. The two-channel Spanish and French dubs are, unsurprisingly, thinner and less involving.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
10 Deleted Scenes
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director/co-writer Catherine Hardwicke, co-writer/actor Nikki Reed, and actors Evan Rachel Wood and Brady Corbet
Packaging: Keep Case
1 Disc
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: The extras are spread over both sides of the disc. The trailer is nonanamorphic but otherwise looks very good. The ten "deleted" scenes are mostly slightly-lengthened versions of scenes already present in the film, and don't add much. Annoyingly, when playing them individually (instead of selecting "Play All"), one has to select the Commentary On/Off option each time. The six-minute featurette is mere fluff and can easily be skipped.

The commentary with director Hardwicke and three young actors from the film is pretty lightweight and not especially worthwhile. Hardwicke talks a bit about the difficulties of making an independent film and working with young actors, but mostly she's content to let the kids speak. While one wouldn't expect a great deal of insight from them, it's still disappointing that they spend most of their time laughing at the mistakes in the film and making comments like "That pizza was so gross!" All in all, the extras on the disc are a prime example of quantity over quality

Extras Grade: C

 

Final Comments

First time director Catherine Hardwicke draws on the real-life experiences of a young friend to depict a teenage girl's frightening slide into casual drug use, shoplifting, and sex in Thirteen. The extras are nothing to write home about, but the excellent transfer makes this DVD well worth a look.

 


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