I wrote this review after seeing  Cracks at the 2010 San Francisco International Film Festival. I was under the impression it would receive a theatrical release and therefore held back the full-length review. As it turns out, it did get a theatrical release, but it didn’t spread to the Bay Area. Since it’s available on Netflix, I feel justified in releasing this review now.

C Boarding School Drama

Set in an English boarding school in 1934, Cracks has some good scenes and some bad ones. The characters may at one moment seem realistic and fascinating, and at the next do something utterly unbelievable with no motivation beyond the demands of the plot. This is the sort of movie where one character spends most of the film hating another, then suddenly likes her because the plot requires it, then hates her again.

Filmmakers have been setting movies in British boarding schools since the beginning of the art form. We’ve had Goodbye, Mr. Chips, If…, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (very close to Cracks, storywise), and the Harry Potter movies. Cracks follows the clichés. You’ve got the snooty student who dominates the others, the non-conformist teacher with admiring students, and the new girl (this being a girls’ school) who tries to fit in.

Eva Green of The Dreamers and Casino Royale gets top billing as the unconventional and much-admired teacher. Through most of the film, she does an excellent job, and her stunning beauty helps us believe that the girls admire her and want to emulate her. And like Jean Brodie of the much-better film, she proves to be less than she appears. Cracks’ best moments come as screenwriters Ben Court, Caroline Ip, and Jordan Scott (who also directed) slowly reveal the degree in which she’s been living a lie. Unfortunately, as the film approaches its end, Green’s performance goes way over the top, forcing us to lose not only our sympathy for the character, but also our ability to suspend disbelief.

I won’t tell you which character dies, but I wouldn’t be giving much away if I did. With the single exception of the character of Dead Meat in Hotshots, I’ve never seen a movie so obviously foreshadow a character’s death. And Hotshots was parodying these foreshadowing conventions.

Another thing: With its crazed, seducing, raping, murdering lesbian, it’s a bit homophobic.

Cracks is not a horrible mess. It’s well acted, with interesting characters who behave (most of the time) like real people. The basic story, of a Spanish princess trying to fit in at an English boarding school, makes a compelling way to explore that particular subculture. It’s technically well-made, and is filled with beautiful women. But the flaws, which are almost all at the basic story level, weigh it down.