July 31, 2019 Teacher (Movie Review)
We could not live in a more complicated world right now. School shootings, cyber bullying, suicides. These are just a few of the horrific headlines that seem to make the news every week and unfortunately there does not seem to be any sign of these occurrences slowing down.
That all in mind, ever since the television series 13 Reasons Why, it seems that there has been a resurgence of teen-oriented melodramas that deal with very difficult issues without sugar-coating any of it. Then there is Adam Dick’s film, Teacher, which hits theaters Friday, August 2nd and on Blu Ray/DVD August 13th via Cinedigm. Exploring the aforementioned issues, Teacher does so from a somewhat unique angle, the teacher’s perspective and not necessarily the student’s.
Starring David Dastmalchian (Ant-Man 2015, Blade Rune 2049 2017) and Kevin Pollak (The Usual Suspects 1995, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel series), Teacher is an unflinching portrayal of trauma as a contagion passed between people and generations, all set within the prism of modern suburbia. The film follows the downward spiral of a high school English teacher (Dastmalchian) as he goes to disturbing lengths to protect his favorite students from bullies and challenge the power of a wealthy patron (Pollak) within the community.
Dastmalchian is one of those actors who you recognize the moment you see him on screen, but perhaps might not know his name yet. Many remember his chilling performance in 2013’s Prisoners and his confrontational scene with Jake Gyllenhaal followed by a few snakes…however, ever since then, he has just been doing his thing. Steadily working and making a name for himself and a screen presence to be reckoned with, it is refreshing to see Dastmalchian take on the leading role of James Lewis in Teacher, a subdued low key English teacher who is clearly frustrated with life. His work in this film is just as subtly edgy and impressive as everything else he has done, but putting him up front and center as the leading man really cements him as a talent to continue watching through and through.
However, despite a strong center performance from Dastmalchian, there is not too much in Teacher that you have not exactly seen before. A ruthless jock (Curtis Edward Jackson: The Falls: Covenant of Grace 2016) bullies a young educated teen (Matthew Garry: The Sacrifice 2015, The Dreamers series) and his girlfriend (Esme Perez: Sirens series, Chicago Med series) with racial slurs, online harassment tactics, and physical violence throughout. Lewis tries to fight against the bullying by reaching out to the bully’s parents, one of which is played wonderfully by Kevin Pollak. Unfortunately the parents do not believe Lewis, so he takes matters into his own hands and redemption is restored.
As mentioned, beat by beat, nothing in this film is particularly new and it all feels predictable with exception of the final scene. All this in mind, there are certainly some intense moments in Teacher and one scene in particular involving a masked beating that starts with a rock that was quite shocking. The main flaw with the film is not necessarily that it is not breaking any ground, but that it does not go far enough. It oddly feels restrained and perhaps if it really went for the throat, Teacher might be a far more captivating and memorable experience. As it stands, it feels just like a low key character film that is perfectly humble, however, there are elements to the story that make it feel like it wants to be bigger.
That all being said, Teacher is still an interesting character study that should at least be seen once. Dastmalchian easily makes the film and Dick’s humble direction is admirable. Also, any film that slams these ideas down our throat is beneficial because we cannot have enough of these kind of stories to be told to the world. To put this problem of bullying under a magnifying glass and really show it for what it is, Cryptic Rock gives Teacher 3 out of 5 stars.