15 April 1999 | Raul Santigo
Better than average performances and a unique story line make this "youth-in-crisis" film worth watching.
One of the requirements for making a realistic movie is that it take both its story and audience seriously. Thicker Than Blood does at least that much, as it explores the relationship between an at-risk boy and the teacher who tries to rescue him from his hellish family.
In this ninety-minute 1998 TNT Originals movie, we meet an idealistic young man named Griffin Byrne (Dan Futterman) who puts off law school to teach at a New York City Catholic Boy's School. There is a problem, though: his Ivy League education is useless here so, for inspiration, he quotes lines from movies like Stand And Deliver. As expected, his unorthodox teaching methods are frowned upon by the school's Headmaster, Father Larkin (Mickey Rourke). But Griffin gets in more trouble when he begins taking a personal interest in one of his students, an artistic young truant named Lee Cortez (Carlo Alban). Boasting to the headmaster that he can get the youth to school every day, Griffin soon makes startling discoveries about his newly-found cause.
For starters, Lee lives in a violent, inner-city tenement with a family that is perilously close to self destruction. Worse, to survive his chaotic home life, the boy has withdrawn into a kind of fantasy world -- a world he creates with magnificent drawings. Griffin knows Lee's sketches are portfolio-quality and could no doubt gain the youth admission to art school. The problem is, he also sees them as a cry for help. Not knowing exactly what to do, he reaches out to his student, only to become entangled in a nightmarish family abuse cycle which undermines his efforts at every turn.
From this point forward, the movie portrays the tenuous bond that grows between student and teacher despite ever-mounting obstacles. For the most part, this is done well and provides some of the film's best moments. It also helps compensate for the occasionally far-fetched story line and for the film's overall tendency to build suspense at the expense of subtlety (halfway through, we're fairly certain of its outcome).
But Thicker Than Blood is still worth watching. For one thing, the film does not patronize us with feel-good answers to the serious questions it poses. Another plus is that the performances are better than average, with Carlo Alban, in particular, emerging as a gifted young actor. He is flawless in the pivotal role of Lee Cortez, a youth who makes us believe that kids really do have noble impulses and can't always be rescued from them.