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Catherine Hardwicke
Holly Hunter, Evan Rachel Wood, Nikki Reed, Jeremy Sisto, Brady Corbet, Deborah Unger, Kip Pardue
Writing Credits:
Catherine Hardwicke, Nikki Reed

It's happening so fast.

Anxiously trying to fit into the peer pressure cooker environment of junior high, thirteen-year-old Tracy (Evan Rachel Wood) goes to shocking lengths in order to befriend Evie (co-writer Nikki Reed), the most popular girl in school. Now the two are inseparable - and incorrigible - leaving Tracy's desperate mom (Academy Award winner Holly Hunter) powerless to rescue her from a whirlwind of drugs, sex and crime.

Box Office:
$2 million.
Opening Weekend
$116.260 thousand on 5 screens.
Domestic Gross
$4.599 million.

Rated R

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
Fullscreen 1.33:1
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby 2.0
French Dolby 2.0

Runtime: 99 min.
Price: $27.98
Release Date: 1/27/2004

• Audio Commentary with Director/Co-writer Catherine Hardwicke, Co-Writer/Actor Nikki Reed, and Actors Evan Rachel Wood and Brady Corbet
• Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary
• “The Making of Thirteen” Featurette
• Trailer

Search Titles:

Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Thirteen (2003)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 22, 2004)

As one who works with fairly underprivileged kids for a living, I’ve encountered plenty of startling tales. For instance, not long ago I met a 12-year-old who had recently had a baby. Problematic as that may be, the really shocking part of the tale didn’t come just from that aspect. The part that gives everyone pause is when I note that this girl’s mother was only 27. That’s right – a grandmother at 27!

No one in Thirteen has quite such a messed up situation, but the movie presents some rather unpleasant circumstances nonetheless. The film starts with a scene in which we see two teen girls get high on aerosols and hit each other in the face; they’re amused because the fumes made them numb, so they punch each other to prove their lack of feeling.

From there the movie jumps back four months to show how they got to this situation. We meet 13-year-old seventh grader Tracy (Evan Rachel Wood) at the start of the new school year. She lives with her slightly older brother Mason (Brady Corbet) and her divorced mom Melanie (Holly Hunter); she does hairstyling in their house and they moderately struggle to get by.

Tracy meets the hot girl in school, Evie (Nikki Reed), and decides she wants to befriend her. After the other girls insult her clothes, Tracy spruces up her wardrobe and gets positive notice from Evie. Actually, the manipulative Evie plays a trick on Tracy, but the latter persists and eventually impresses her idol when she steals a woman’s wallet.

After that the girls become inseparable. The film follows Tracy’s quick path into degradation. Evie leads her to make out with some moderately seedy boys, and they get involved with drugs, booze, smoking, and other sexual activities. Tracy becomes more and more oppositional toward Melanie, a matter that turns worse when her mom’s recovering druggie boyfriend Brady (Jeremy Sisto) re-enters the scene.

Thirteen comes touted as a realistic and frank look at the world of modern teens, and it works to some degree. However, the film has a lot in common with horror movies, as we see Evie in the role of villain. Sure, Tracy is a willing participant in most things she does, but Evie clearly acts as the one to provoke her decline.

This means that Evie presents a less than sympathetic character. She really does come across like a movie villain much of the time. Insanely manipulative, she lies constantly and we really never know what to believe from her. She tells characters of various forms of abuse, but the majority of these instances seem to occur simply to use the emotions of others. By the end, she starts to turn on Tracy, and that’s what turns her strongly into villain territory.

To my surprise, Thirteen rarely encourages the viewer to feel compassion for the kids. Though Tracy occupies the vast majority of the screen time, it really views things from Melanie’s point of view. She provokes the only genuine feelings of sympathy from the audience. To some degree, we see the way she causes Tracy’s issues; Melanie clearly finds it tough to discipline her kids, as she prefers to be their friend and not an authority figure. However, matters escalate well beyond the absence of firm discipline, and we feel for her as Tracy goes out of control.

Unfortunately, the movie never really attempts to address the root causes of Tracy’s decline. During the early scenes, we get a sense of her as a reasonably well adjusted and high achieving kid, but we quickly lose sight of that person. Sure, we see the home issues as the family struggles to keep things intact. We also learn that Tracy’s father finds little time to get involved with his kids and see some hints of inner turmoil.

However, all those issues existed before Tracy befriends Evie, so her precipitous collapse doesn’t make a great deal of sense. To be sure, real roots of truth appear in the flick. Kids genuinely feel relentless peer pressure at that age, and Tracy’s family life certainly makes matters worse.

Nonetheless, it seems like a stretch to totally accept the horrible person Tracy quickly becomes. Wood nicely inhabits the role as written, and she presents a very solid performance. Unfortunately, the script allows her little to do other than turn into a one-dimensional brat. She displays such a nasty attitude that we don’t really feel bad for her. It’s sad in a general way, and it’s disturbing to see the depths to which kids will fall, but it becomes tough to care about Tracy.

Easily the best performance of the bunch comes from Hunter, partially because Melanie is the only fully developed character in the film. Technically, Melanie exists as a supporting role, but we do tend to see things through her eyes. Hunter allows us to take her as a real person with flaws but also becomes sympathetic and likable. Hunter never turns Melanie into a helpless victim, but we feel her angst as she watches the decline of her daughter.

Director Catherine Hardwicke chooses to depict all of this in a faux documentary style. That means lots of jittery hand-held camerawork. This approach makes sense in theory but not in reality. The technique never adds a sense of verisimilitude to the project. Instead, it feels gratuitous and obvious, and it causes distractions. I got used to the jerky movement after a while, but the camerawork still detracted from the action onscreen, which didn’t seem like a good idea; it actively took me out of the action.

Thirteen looks at an important subject, and it may act as a way to jolt inattentive parents to understand what’s really going on with their kids. However, the movie seems so relentlessly negative and sensational that many parents probably won’t think it applies to their lives. The film boasts some solid acting but comes across as more of an attempt to shock us than to communicate the reality of teen life.

The DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B/ Bonus B-

Thirteen appears in both an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 and in a fullscreen version on this double-sided, single-layered DVD; the widescreen image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the letterboxed picture was reviewed for this article. Despite its low-budget “indie” origins, Thirteen gave us a generally solid presentation.

Across the board, sharpness seemed quite good. A smidgen of softness cropped up in some wider shots, but those instances remained minor. For the most part, the movie was detailed and concise. I saw no issues related to jagged edges or shimmering, and I also detected no signs of edge enhancement. Some grain appeared, but that didn’t cause distractions since it fit with the photographic style. I noticed occasional examples of specks but nothing serious; overall, the transfer looked clean.

Thirteen mostly featured natural tones, but its palette gradually became more and more stylized as the film progressed and Tracy got deeper into her mess. Most of the time the colors were nicely rich and distinctive. They became less full as the movie went on, and by the end, they turned almost totally desaturated. The DVD replicated the colors well and seemed to display them as intended. Blacks were nicely dense and taut, and most low-light shots appeared appropriately detailed. Those instances occasionally seemed a little heavy, but not significantly so, and they remained fairly easy to discern. I didn’t expect much from this transfer, but I found it to seem consistently pleasing.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Thirteen won’t win any prizes, but it worked fine for this sort of film. The soundfield remained heavily oriented toward the front speakers. Music dominated the proceedings. The score and songs demonstrated clear stereo imaging and presence. Effects tended toward general atmosphere and rarely did anything out of the ordinary. Surround usage stayed in the realm of vague support and added little to the presentation.

While the soundfield lacked ambition, the quality of the audio helped compensate. Speech consistently seemed distinctive and concise, and I detected no issues related to intelligibility or edginess. Though a minor element, effects were accurate and detailed, with no distortion or other problems. Music sounded excellent. Both the songs and the score demonstrated good clarity and dimensionality, and dynamic range was very positive. Bass seemed warm and tight. Overall, the track didn’t dazzle me, but it seemed good enough to earn a “B”.

This DVD release of Thirteen includes a few supplements. The main attraction comes from an audio commentary with co-writer/director Catherine Hardwicke, co-writer/actor Nikki Reed, and actors Evan Rachel Wood and Brady Corbet. All four sit together for this running, screen-specific track. They cover elements like the origins of the flick and the relationship between Hardwicke and Reed, details of the shoot, challenges and benefits of low-budget movies, and production design. We hear a number of interesting anecdotes from the set, mostly as the actors offer the little details and oddities. More than a few dead spots occur, though, and we get a fair amount of generic praise as well. Still, this manages to become a fairly useful and informative chat about the flick.

Found solely on the widescreen side of the disc, we find 10 deleted scenes. These run a total of 10 minutes and 10 seconds. Most of them just add a little to existing sequences, though we do get to learn more about Tracy and her old friends. We also see a piece that would have physically introduced Tracy’s dad much earlier in the flick. We can watch the scenes with or without commentary from director Hardwicke. She tells us why the segments got the boot and provides a few other minor remarks about them during this serviceable but bland discussion.

Over on the fullscreen side of the disc, we discover the movie’s theatrical trailer plus a short featurette called The Making of Thirteen. The latter runs a mere six minutes and five seconds as it presents movie clips, a few shots from the set, and comments from Nikki Reed, Catherine Hardwicke, Evan Rachel Wood, and actors Jeremy Sisto and Holly Hunter. This relates the film’s story and lots of praise. It’s a pretty useless program.

Thirteen has its moments, and if nothing else, it serves as a useful wake-up call to parents. However, the film’s relentlessly negative and sensationalistic tone makes it less realistic than it should be, and the movie comes across as too over the top much of the time. The DVD presents pretty positive picture and audio plus a small set of extras highlighted by a decent audio commentary and some deleted scenes. Buoyed by good performances, Thirteen remains intriguing enough for a rental, but it’s not a great film.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.4324 Stars Number of Votes: 74
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