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Mitchell's Top 20 Films of 2013: #7 "Short Term 12"

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7. “Short Term 12” - To a teenager, a broken childhood could certainly stifle hope and turn an innocent spirit into a broken one.

Looking around Short Term 12, a group-care facility for troubled kids, shattered psyches are everywhere.

Some teens lie in bed - curled up in the fetal position - all day, others release their frustrations by drawing sketches and some, suddenly, without any warning, explode into rages.

The staff - a small group of 20-somethings trying to make a positive difference in these mentally and/or physically abused kids’ lives - attempt to navigate through this emotional minefield.

In writer/director Destin Cretton’s outstanding film, he guides us through the minefield too, but not without setting off some explosions.

For the audience, the human verbal and physical explosions feel real, and “Short Term 12” is completely authentic in a number of ways.

It starts with Brie Larson’s captivating performance as Grace.

Grace, a natural-born leader, runs the home with love and caring, but also with strict discipline.

She gives the kids some rope, but also knows when to stop poor behavior.

For example, cursing isn’t allowed, but in the quiet moment of a one-on-one staff-to-kid conversation, she lets the occasional “f-bomb” slip by in both directions.

Her job is a difficult one, but something other than her chosen vocation wears on Grace.

We see her unkempt straight locks fall to her shoulders and around her face as she patrols the halls and dorm rooms with determination, but she also projects genuine empathy with her weary eyes.

So much so, it appears she might share similar internal turmoil as these kids.

Speaking of kids, all of the key teen actors - Kaitlyn Dever (Jayden), Keith Stanfield (Marcus), Alex Calloway (Sammy), and Kevin Hernandez (Luis) - give very important performances and clearly communicate the pain and angst which parental abuse can create.

Jayden’s and Marcus’s backstories are told in especially powerful and heart-stopping ways, it might be impossible to hold back tears.

It was for me.

Filming with a hand-held camera, Cretton’s film darts in and out and follows the staff during haphazard moments.

More importantly, the camera allows us to peek into quiet times too, and the cinematic effect Cretton applies is rarely seen in movies.

We get to really know these kids and staff, and although the young guardians are chartered with “creating a safe environment, that’s it”, they recognize these broken spirits need more.

In some cases, the guardians need more too.

Follow me on Twitter: @MitchFilmCritic

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