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October 2, 2012

New Port South

by Franz Patrick


New Port South (2001)
★ / ★★★★

Maddox (Blake Shields) was an intelligent but unhappy senior in high school. When Mr. Walsh (Todd Field), one of the school’s history teachers, assigned a project in which the students had to find a newspaper article and write their thoughts on it, Maddox stumbled upon the story involving a former New Port South student named John Stanton (Michael Shannon) who recently escaped from a mental hospital. Word had it that Stanton was forced to be there as punishment inflicted by the school administrators. Three years ago, to no avail, Stanton incited a student body revolution. Maddox was inspired and hoped to continue Stanton’s agenda. Written by James Hughes and directed by Kyle Cooper, “New Port South” was ineffective because it suffered from a lack of a defined perspective. There were far too many things going on and none were fully developed. Much of the film’s running time was dedicated to Maddox performing disgusting and amoral stunts, but we knew nothing about him other than the fact that he felt alienated. Not once did the filmmakers show him trying to work with the teachers and making a genuine effort to lay down the foundations of a potentially bright future. Since there wasn’t enough information given to us as to how he was prior to his madness, it was extremely difficult to identify where he was coming from. Instead, he came off as this budding criminal who created chaos for his own sick pleasure. I was very interested in Chris (Will Estes), one of Maddox’ best friends, who, unfortunately, did not get the screen time he deserved. Chris wanted to go to art school but he didn’t have the grades nor the many prestigious achievements to make his college application stand out. He hoped that by working with Mr. Walsh, he could have a chance in being accepted somewhere. There was complexity in him because he was torn between friendship–Maddox’ blind fury in overturning the school–and a chance at a future he could be proud of. There should have been more conflict between Chris the sort-of moderate and Maddox the extremist. Mr. Wilson (Gabriel Mann), the new teacher, could also have provided an interesting perspective. Arguably, we could have identified with him most if he functioned as a pair of objective fresh eyes. But it didn’t work out that way. He was simply portrayed as green, somewhat dimwitted, and desperately wanted to win the approval of students. I wasn’t convinced he had worked with students before. If he had, he would, in the least, know the difference between approval and respect. Not only was “New Port South” plagued by inconsistencies, it failed to capture a genuine high school setting. Halfway through, I began to think that maybe it would have been better off as a satire. It wanted to be taken seriously but it failed to provide us a reason to do so.

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