“When you’re 17, every day is war.” That is the very fitting tag promoting “The Battle of Shaker Heights,” the winner of the second Project Greenlight, a filmmaking contest created by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon.
In the film high school senior Kelly Ernswiler (Shia LeBeouf) participates in simulated wars during his leisure time as an escape from the personal battle of his adolescent struggles with his family and schoolmates.
At home, Kelly is exposed to his father (William Sadler), a recovering alcoholic and drug-abuser who supports drug addicts and homeless people and invites them to their home. Kelly’s mother (Kathleen Quinlan), an obsessive artist, teaches painting to Chinese immigrants in their home in Shaker Heights, a suburb outside of Cleveland, Ohio.
“The Battle of Shaker Heights” opens with a slow-motion battle scene, then abruptly switches to quickly-changing camera angles. The epic battle scene of World War II is interrupted when a soldier’s cell phone rings. At that point the audience realizes the soldiers are members of a war scene reenactment club. It is then that the comedic juices begin to spill and the Kelly’s journey of reality collides with his fantasies.
In another scene of disjointedness, the audience discovers that despite the obvious affection of his co-worker, Kelly pines after Tabby (Amy Smart), the sister of fellow war reenactor Bart Bowland (Elden Henson), who is planning her wedding.
The curly-haired soldier-in-training encounters problems in the classroom as he cannot help but talk back to his history teacher. He meets with the principal who discusses Kelly’s lack of interest in college. When asked by Principal Holmestead what appeals to him he cleverly responds, “Well, advertising executives use status and sex to appeal to my demographic.”
Kelly gets revenge against the school bully when he and his posse gather to launch a successful real-life Special Operations mission. In the end, the protagonist learns a lot about his family, his life, his friends and the women who love him. The coming-of-age tale captures the brutal discoveries and hardships that high school brings and the triumph of a victorious battle.
LeBeouf stands out as the talent in the movie. He takes advantage of his opportunities as the lead to portray emotional scenes with Tabby, courageous scenes in battle, and a confident spirit in his mission to humiliate his bully.
LeBeouf shines because his humor comes across as somewhat dry and sarcastic and his acting appears to take little effort. He is sure to receive a lot of attention for his performance in “The Battle of Shaker Heights” and a long career after his comical but honest portrayal of Kelly Ernswiler.
Richard Marvin skillfully scatters the music throughout the film. It bounces in and out of scenes like the waxing and waning confusion of adolescence, sounding similar to the scores from “American Beauty” and “Pay It Forward.” The theme song “When You’re Falling,” by Peter Gabriel rolls during the final credits and serves as a relieving and meditative closure to the film.
Erica Beeney wrote a fresh script, the characters and story interesting enough to make one wish the film, directed by Kyle Rankin and Efram Potelle, was a bit longer or more developed.
Independent producer Chris Moore, who also produced the “American Pie” series, “Reindeer Games” and “Goodwill Hunting” produced the film, along with Matt Damon and Ben Affleck.
In June HBO began airing the reality series “Project Greenlight” which goes behind the scenes of the film and details the struggles involved in making it.