Directed By: Arthur Hiller
Written By: W.R. McKinney
Cinematography: David M. Walsh
Editor: Don Zimmerman
Cast: Nick Nolte, Jobeth Williams, Judd Hirsch, Ralph Macchio, Allen Garfield, Lee Grant, Richard Mulligan, Laura Dern, Crispin Glover, Morgan Freeman, Steven Hill, William Schallert, Mary Alice, Anthony Heald Virginia Capers, Royal Dani, Art Metrano
A teacher overcomes his frustration in a high-school full of flunkies. As he attempts to educate his students, he attempts to help them gets him into trouble with the school board, which only adds to his problems. With the support of his students, he beats the school board and his frustration.
This film is in the same vein as AND JUSTICE FOR ALL. Where it is a darkly satirical look at a system that wasn’t working. For that film, it was legal and the justice/court system. In this case public high school and just how dangerous it was for students and faculty. As you had kids who were uninterested and unmotivated. Teachers who were burnt out, scared, or don’t care and the unions and powers that be whose hands are tied or want them to do the best that they can with what they have yet offer no hope.
Now, while this film isn’t as sharp or necessarily as heavy as that film they do share a kinship. As well as with films like THE HOSPITAL and NETWORK (both of those written by Paddy Chayefsky) these are meant to be more ensemble films with a central figure in the lead who is riding on both sides until the end. Where they finally have to show where they stand and make some kind of difference even if ultimately lose.
This film is interesting as it can be funny. Especially pinpointing Richard Mulligan’s character, a teacher who gets into character to inspire his students and actually gets through to them. Before finding out he is an escaped mental patient.
What keeps the film lively is that one minute it can be gritty and dealt with seriously but then the next goes for a laugh that is more character-based comedy and less broad.
Though there are many characters this film mainly focuses on Nick Nolte who is burnt out it actually seems to be the rare teacher who gives a damn. Though he wants to be a team player he has a reckless rebelliousness to him.
This role fits note to a The cuts an imposing figure but comes off quite intellectual. He is rugged throughout and tries his best but whenever he seems to be getting somewhere he has another bureaucratic door slammed in his face. This is a vintage performance from him where he is unpredictable but lively throughout.
Nick Nolte is a famous actor. For me, he is an actor I discovered while looking for somebody else. He usually starred or Co-Starred in movies I initially watched for some other actor who was in the film for instance 48 HOURS I watched for Eddie Murphy and he co-Starred in it. I watched DOWN & OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS for Bette Midler he Co-Starred in it. I watched this film initially to see Ralph Macchio. He made this before KARATE KID, but I discovered it after he starred in that film.
The film has a recognizable cast. That looking back is impressive and all out to good use. The town of the film does become more serious after the death of a character.
Watching the film these days barely raises an eyebrow. But I remember when first seeing it felt scandalous like an expose almost. As it seems to try to shine a light on the problems of the then-current education system. Some of those problems still exist and some have gotten worse. It seems to try to take a bite but there is so much to chew it can only get to a certain amount of pieces presented.
This is a film that is worth watching to see how a film can make a point and bring up issues. By being gritty but also offering a light touch to round out and let the audience off somewhat.