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Sundance Review: Assassination of a High School President

Director Brett Simon and a talented cast deliver a vision of a John Hughes-style noir flick that is smart, sexy and thoroughly entertaining.
By  · Published on January 25th, 2008

Leave it to the end of the week to deliver all of the best surprises. And in this particular case, I have been caught off guard by a film that I did not expect to like. But walking away from it, I have discovered that it is one of those films that you are instantly bought in to — it makes me want to run to the top of a mountain and shout its praises. Coincidentally, there are plenty of mountains here in Park City, but it’s too fucking cold for me to go climbing to the top. Thus, I will stick to this forum, my own personal mountain upon which I will stand and preach to all of you the wonderful cinematic experience that is Assassination of a High School President.

Barring any more unforeseen cinematic gems, this should go down as my favorite film of the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. It seems contrary to all reason, as it (a) stars Mischa Barton, (b) was a late night screening in which I was sure to fall asleep and (c) was sliding in completely under the radar — no one was talking about it, except my good friend Alex. Although even though he gave it a 9 out of 10, I think that is underselling it a bit.

It is a modern day noir that smells a lot like 2005’s Brick but also runs its course more in the vain of a John Hughes movie. It stars Reece Thompson as Bobby Funke, a witty hardwalking reporter who sets out to crack open a case of some stolen SAT tests. Under the watchful eye of an eccentric war-veteran principal (Bruce Willis) and his high school paper editor (Melonie Diaz), Funke breaks the story wide open sending student council president Paul Moore (Patrick Taylor) to indefinite suspension. But the story doesn’t end there; enter Paul’s sexy schoolgirl girlfriend (Mischa Barton) — did I mention that it is set in a Catholic school? She takes a liking to Funke and acts as a diversion as he fights to figure out what really happened and keep his own nose out of trouble.

Chief among this movie’s best qualities is its script. Screenwriters like Tim Calpin and Kevin Jakubowski (two former production assistants on South Park) are part of the reason why I pray every night for an end to the writer’s strike, but also the reason why writers deserve their dues. They have penned a script that is smart, sexy and rich with supporting characters that are at some points as interesting as those who get the spotlight.

Their words are delivered wonderfully through a fantastic performance from Reece Thompson, who is certainly someone to watch. When I say that his performance is good, I mean that it is Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Brick good.

But don’t get me wrong here, I am not saying that Assassination is cut from the exact same mold as Brick — there are some distinct differences. Where Brick payed close tribute to classic noir, Assassination is more of a dark comedy version of a John Hughes flick. Sure, there are some things that may turn people off — like the fact that this school exists in a seemingly timeless, alternate cosmos where kids take themselves more seriously than they ought to, but that is the beauty of it. I said it before with The Wackness and I will say it again, there is nothing like something creative, fresh and new to keep my love affair with Sundance strong. Kudos to director Brett Simon and his immensely talented cast, as they have certainly struck all the right cords — they have made a movie that deserves to be seen.

Keep an eye on our Sundance 2008 Homepage for more from Park City.

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Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the One Perfect Shot TV show (currently streaming on HBO Max) and the co-host of Trial By Content on The Ringer Podcast Network. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)