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Pay it forward

Threat advisory: Severe - Severe risk of entertaining activities

Movie propaganda

Is it possible for one idea to change the world?

Eugene Simonet (Kevin Spacey), an emotionally and physically-scarred social studies teacher, challenges his young students to devise some type of philanthropic plan and put it into effect.

Trevor McKinney (Haley Joel Osment), whose own life is far from rosy, takes the assignment to heart and invents the "pay-it-forward" philosophy, which encourages paying back favours in advance. Though celebrated by acquaintances and the media, the boy struggles at home with his alcoholic mother, Arlene (Helen Hunt), and the only one who recognises his lonely fight is Eugene Simonet.

Persons of interest

  • Kevin Spacey .... Eugene Simonet
  • Helen Hunt .... Arlene McKinney
  • Haley Joel Osment .... Trevor McKinney
  • Jay Mohr .... Chris Chandler
  • James Caviezel .... Jerry
  • Jon Bon Jovi .... Ricky McKinney
  • Angie Dickinson .... Grace
  • David Ramsey .... Sidney
  • Gary Werntz .... Thorsen
  • Colleen Flynn .... Woman on Bridge
  • Marc Donato .... Adam
  • Kathleen Wilhoite .... Bonnie
  • Liza Snyder .... Michelle
  • Catherine Hyde .... Author
  • Leslie Dixon .... Screenwriter
  • Mimi Leder .... Director

Cinematic intelligence sources

Intelligence analyst

Special Agent Matti

Theatrical report

Wow. 117 minutes of solid drama, followed by a moment of divine inspiration, followed by The Hollywood Ending™.

The drama: damaged people, who aren't mafiosi, stuck in Las Vegas, doing the best that they can. Think Showgirls as written by anyone other than Joe Eszterhas. The deeper the damage the better the drama. A physically-scarred teacher teaching an emotionally-scarred boy being raised by a completely-scarred, battered, alcoholic woman being tormented by a mentally-scarred, alcoholic man. Then they meet some people with real problems.

The divine inspiration: life sux. You can make it less painful by helping people, less painful for them and for you, because helping someone is the only way out of the cycle of pain. The people you least want to help are the ones who need your help most, they will also give you your greatest reward, should they allow you to help.

Some rewards are not what you expect.

The Hollywood Ending™: the kind of thing that, when it happens in real life, is one of the most beautiful forms of togetherness a human being will ever experience. A celebration of life, a celebration of death. When you put it in a movie it's a crass manipulation of the audience's emotions which, at that point, are supremely vulnerable because of what has gone before.

To avoid The Hollywood Ending™ you can press "stop: after Helen and Kevin get the news in the hospital. It's a quick scene but it's easily recognisable.

The actors: Kevin Spacey: subtle and withdrawn, full of pain and trying to hide it behind walls that aren't as high and thick as he imagines them to be. Helen Hunt: trashy, way too thin, way too quick to hide in a bottle, but doing the best that she can - the type of woman about whom country songs are written. Haley Joel Osment: deadpan, bordering on stereotypical if not for the flashes of a child's delight (cf. The sixth sense). James Caviezel: lost, like Private Witt but without the war to keep him in line. Angie: the only actor in the world who could take a police detective character named after a condiment and make her seem credible.

Intelligence analyst

Secret Agent Acid Thunder

Theatrical report

Bloody hell! An original idea! And a good one at that!

Helen Hunt, Haley Joel Osment and Kevin Spacey make an incredible cast - it's like they were born to play these roles. I can't begin to tell you how proud I felt for Trev when he came up with the scheme and how sad that he never got to see how successful his idea was. It's not very often that Hollywood lets that sort of ending happen as they're stuck in sickly sweet treacle mode.

Boy, did I feel good after watching Pay it forward. I nominate it for an award. Lots of awards.

Media intelligence (DVD)

  • HBO first look: Pay it forward - documentary
  • Commentary by Mimi Leder
  • Trailer
  • Picture: Widescreen 1.85:1
  • Audio: Dolby Surround 5.1
  • Disc: Dual layer
  • Languages: English, Italian Spanish
  • Subtitles: English, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Finnish, Icelandic, Portuguese, Hebrew, Polish, Greek, Czech, Turkish, Hungarian, Croatian, Italian captions

Security censorship classification

M (Adult themes, low level violence)

Surveillance time

119 minutes(1:59 hours)

Not for public release in Australia before date

DVD rental: 18 July 2001

Cinema surveillance images

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