There’s that old saying that “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree“…and in the Scott family it seems that anyone sharing lineage with Sir Ridley is destined for greatness. Enter one Jordan Scott, daughter to Mr. Gladiator himself, who in her feature length directorial debut shows us she’s going places. Creating something original in Hollywood is tough enough but harder still is adapting someone else’s material. But from just the first 10 minutes or so this film, from 2009, shows us Scott has a solid career ahead of her that is coming up fast.
Cracks is an adaptation of Sheila Kohler‘s novel of the same name. This period piece (focusing on a tight-knit girls swim team) is an unglamourous coming of age story (similar to any number of films in the Criterion Collection) that looks into the last days of the girls’ ignorance of the world around them. Now using the term “ignorance” might be too harsh as they’re only ignorant of that which adults haven’t taught them.
The story takes place at what looks and is thought to be a boarding/prep school. However, as the story plays out, this facility is less an institution of higher learning but more of a religious dumping ground for unwanted children…and staff. Eva Green plays Miss G, the coach of the swim team. She’s a bit of social outcast and as coach oversees those who are unfortunately too young to realize she doesn’t know what she’s doing.
She’s essentially the oldest kid on the school bus. You know, the one telling the younger kids anything she wants because she knows they don’t know she’s making it all up…well, that’s Miss G. Soon after, the same group of individuals find themselves picking up the pieces to all the countless lies they’ve been fed. But to Miss G’s credit it’s not malicious or totally at fault for filling their heads because, as we see early on, she really cares as she teaches them time and again to believe in themselves. Take this small exchange for example: “The most important thing in life is desire. You can achieve anything you want. The world is yours for the taking. Nothing is impossible for you, my girls. All you need is to desire it.”
Worse though, as this is not really a school, this “team” is not what it might be in any normal sense (e.g. a group training with the intention of challenging other school teams). It’s more like a club and the girls aren’t really training but more just passing time and they’re so young they don’t realize the difference. Further it breaks their hearts when Miss G is exposed as nothing more than a fraud by a new addition to the school, the worldly traveled daughter of a Spanish aristocrat. She thinks she’s just temporary but finds that’s what all the other girls thought when they first arrived. Whether she’s staying or not, her presence and attitude is enough to shake things and no amount of glue is going to keep these cracks from fissuring.
Cracks is vibrant and beautiful, in that drab British period piece fashion mind you, and features top-notch acting talent which just sings when set against the backdrop of the Irish countryside. The stunning Eva Green may get top billing but the kids take center stage as youngsters like Juno Temple take their fair share of the limelight. You’ll be shocked to learn was only 19 at the time but acts like she’s twice her age. The story is taut on its own merit but these young actresses carry the film and showcase incredible levels of depth and maturity in their roles. Scott’s adaptation is not only a captivating character study (as well as being a downward social spiral) but a well shot and assembled period piece. From time to time the film drifts into narrative resembling something like a female rendition of The Lord of the Flies (and at times plays more like If…) but even then you can’t say it isn’t very lavishly shot and thoroughly interesting.
While it’s tough to get very deep into the complexity of these characters without spoiling the ride for you, in short Cracks is a slow-moving but purposeful drama worth the price of admission. It embodies so much energy and takes a lot of chances, especially for Scott to tackle in her very first film. Although any film like this is both predictable and bound to end in tears, it’s about enduring trials and heartbreaks along with the characters that really is the mot satisfying (even if it might be considered depressing). Compelling, intimate and vulnerable Cracks takes us beyond what would be a stereotypical clique of children reacting to an outsider but further shows how faith and pride can cause any of us to ignore what’s right (or true) in light of our selfish endeavors. Moreover it highlights human fragility as we learn hard truths which cause us to grow up faster than we’d like and worse, that somethings we deem infallible, rarely are.