In a major academic contest against affluent Whitney High, the struggling kids of Steinmetz High School know they didn't have a chance. But one teacher and seven of his students had a dream. They knew they could succeed wi... more »th the right amount of study, the right application, the right discipline...the right answers. When an opportunity to win presents itself, it's a no brainer-and for seven kids and their teacher, that could be the problem.« less
Jeffrey Ellis | Richardson, Texas United States | 02/18/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I was lucky enough to catch Cheaters on HBO around two in the morning. Though it might, at first, appear to be just another overly "hip" teen comedy, Cheaters is actually one of the best films about high school that I've ever seen. Nicely blending comedy and coming-of-age drama, Cheaters tells the true story of how underdog Stienmetz High School won the 1995 Illinios Academic Decathalon just to then lose their accolades when it was revealed they'd cheated. As someone who was a part of the whole AcDec subculture in high school, I can say that this film managed to perfectly capture the feeling and the atmosphere of that competition, showing not only how it often gives a much needed sense of purpose to students who, otherwise, don't have a place in the highly regimented caste system of high school but also how public, urban-based schools often face a great deal of elitist bias in favor of more exclusive private and magnet schools. While the film never makes the mistake of excusing or trivializing the cheating, it also makes it clear that the students of Stienmetz and similar schools often are treated unfairly by a stagnant system that has decided to give up on them. In the end, it's hard not to feel sympathetic to these students even as they cheat and it's also hard not to feel that, whatever mistakes were made, the actions taken as a result, by both the media and the Chicago School Board, were even worse. The film perfectly captures the exhiliration of the student's initial victory and, just as perfectly, the terror of being judged in the mad feeding frenzy that grew out of the Stienmetz Scandal. (In one of the film's best scenes, we watch as investigators tell lies of their own to trick the students into confessing just to then give a press conference where they tell reporters that the students are the "coldest," most calculating bunch of liars they've ever experienced.) The film benefits from a talented cast of mostly unknown young actors who manage to flawlessly blend into an always-watchable ensemble. The stand-out amongst the younger actors is Jena Malone, showing a previously untapped range as the most unrepentant of the cheaters. She manages to be chillingly single-minded in the way only a teenager can while at the same time displaying an appealing vulnerability. Too smart for the world of teenagers yet to young for the world of adults, Malone gives a performance similar to Reese Whitherspoon's ground-breaking and brilliant work in Election (which, itself, makes a nice companion piece to this film) but at the same time claims this character as uniquely her own and establishes herself as an underrated actress to watch. As the AcDec coach, Jeff Daniels gives probably his best performance since the Purple Rose of Cairo, bringing some wonderfully ambigous shadings to a character who, at first, just seems to be a stereotypical wimp. After years of appearing in roles not up to his talent, Daniels reminds us that he is one of our most unpredictable actors and his performance here, bravely playing a character who isn't always likeable, will keep viewers guessing as to whether Daniels is the story's hero or its villian. Amongst the other performances, mention should be made of Paul Sorvino who gives a brilliantly comical performance as the school's clueless principal. Even as one is left to ponder the many issues raised by the film, it's hard not to smile at just the image of Sorvino, joyously and ineptly dancing at a school pep rally while the band plays a listless version of "Gonna Fly Now." Its a small, almost cliched role but Sorvino brings a touch of inspired lunacy to both it and the film.John Stockwell, who both directed and wrote the script, has made a name for himself by making films that deal with flawed human beings whose only real mistake is realizing that the world is made up of shades of gray even as everyone else insists that everything is black-and-white. A former actor who, like the students of Stienmetz, never quite got the appreciation he deserved, Stockwell has shown with this film, his later Crazy/Beautiful, and his script for Breast Men to have a valuable and unique talent for catching the absurdities of everyday life, consistently crafting scenes that manage to be both surprising and true-to-life. (Certainly one of the highlights here is a small but knowing scene where Daniels and his students plan their post-scandal damage control by watching Stand and Deliver, the prototype for the many dedicated-teacher-in-urban-school-films that this film both comments on and sends up). With Cheaters, Stockwell maintains a perfect combination of the absurd and the realistic while keeping the story moving at just the right pace. As well, Stockwell takes one of the most overused techniques of modern film -- the montage scored by an alternative top ten hit -- and actually manages to pull it off. This alone makes him nearly unique amongst Hollywood's young directors. Perhaps even more so than Crazy/Beautiful, Cheaters proves that John Stockwell is one of the most interesting unknown directors out there and stands as a glowing testament to both his talent and the talents of his unsung actors. By all means, see this film."
Lesson for the Real World
monkeybutt19 | Miami, Florida United States | 08/25/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I never tender reviews but I think that a reply to the already posted reviews is in order.First, cheating is wrong. Driving too fast is wrong. The best applicant not getting the job, office, etc. is wrong. Not paying your fair share of taxes is wrong. Getting off by a legal technicality although you committed the crime is wrong.My point is that cheating is wrong but that doesn't necessarily make it a bad choice. A chasm exists between reality and the pithy moral/ethical aphorisms we were taught as children.Have you ever told anyone when breaking up with them (or the other way around) "it isn't you, it's my fault" when you knew that it really was them, but you didn't want to hurt their feelings?This is reality. Reality is dirty, unfair, and it bites.This is the lesson of this movie. Don't pitty these students or hate them. Just recall my paraphrase of the last lines of the flick, when one of the cheaters remarks:
"Yeah I got into college. The admissions officer thought my academic team experience built character...I learned more about life during the experience than any other time...If one of my students cheated, would I turn them the little bastards in? You bet, because if they can get past me then just maybe they are ready for the real world".This is so familiar to me since, as a teacher, I see students all the time who are cheating or in the throes of the ethical dilemma about doing so. I never tell them one way or the other, but I know that many of them do cheat because I'm fairly bright and aware, but I am sure that there are some who even get by me. Life [is tough], just deal.Thanks for reading :-B"
Great Movie! Funny and Realistic!
Jeffrey Ellis | 03/24/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Cheaters is one of the best tv movies ever to come around. Jeff Daniels plays the Academic Decathalon coach who is fed up that the school he works at refuses to contribute any money to their cause and is generally mad about how Whitney Young is favored and his school is poorly funded. This is totally understandable, so when he finds his team with the help of Jena Malone, he really wants to prove everyone wrong by winning. When one of the students gets a copy of the test, they decide whether to look at it and of course can't refuse. The cast is very good here and i found the characters intriguing. This is not some rubbishy movie to pass time, it is well written and seriously interesting. I did of course hate whitney young and wanted steinmetz to win, even if they did cheat. ALthough cheating is wrong, I could see what drove them to want to win. Anyone can. Once they knew they had the test, it would be impossible for them to want to study when they knew the questions were right next to them. The only thing that I did not understand was how they never thougt about what would happen at nationals after they won state. I guess it would be too far in the future, but someone was bound to notice. It is too bad they cheated and got caught i guess. I still hate whitney young more, even though they did something wrong. I also was surprised that a teacher would have the same position on the subject as the students, but I could understand based on how his father worked hard and got screwed. The music in the film is also great. It was completly unfair that whitney young's advisor or whatever wanted them to take the test again, why should they have? That was outrageous and i seriously did hate the snitch in the film. He did not do it to clean his conscience or whatever, no no he wanted to become famous as the person who helped crack the case. Bottom Line: At least rent this movie, you will not be disappointed. It is that good!"
Surprisingly thought provoking and engaging HBO film
metheb | Seattle, wa United States | 01/23/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
""Cheaters" is an interesting study of the differences between suburban and inner-city schools and the biases that exist when an ethnically diverse academic decathlon team from a poor neighborhood beats the reigning champions from a plush suburb. The startling defeat is challenged without any proof of misconduct and as a viewer you really sympathize with the inner-city kids, even though they cheated. The performances from Jeff Daniels and young Jena Malone ('Bastard out of Carolina' and 'Stepmom') really hold the film together and keeps you rooting for these kids against the hypocrisy of the school board and the rich kids who have everything handed to them. This is one of the better HBO films to come out over the last year (in addition to the amazing 'The Corner') and will really make you think about the disparity and difference between socio-economic groups and the stigmatization some face when they triumph against the odds - no matter what the circumstances."
It is original
Ronnie Clay | Winnsboro, Louisiana | 10/21/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This movie presents a real moral dilemna..should students who have always been thought of as losers take a chance and cheat. The teacher has the toughest decision to make-weather to let his students cheat and what to do if they get caught. Jeff Daniels plays the part well-showing how he is torn-wanting his students to get recognition and wanting to teach them right from wrong. This movie has moral questions that we all face."