Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys

The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys

4.5 4
Director: Peter Care

Cast: Kieran Culkin, Jena Malone, Emile Hirsch


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The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys brings Chris Fuhrman's well-received, posthumously published teen novel to the screen. Set in the 1970s, the film concerns two rebellious Catholic schoolboys -- bashful, pensive Francis (Emile Hirsch) and whip-smart, impulsive Tim (Kieran Culkin) -- who spend their free time pulling elaborate pranks and creating a comic book


The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys brings Chris Fuhrman's well-received, posthumously published teen novel to the screen. Set in the 1970s, the film concerns two rebellious Catholic schoolboys -- bashful, pensive Francis (Emile Hirsch) and whip-smart, impulsive Tim (Kieran Culkin) -- who spend their free time pulling elaborate pranks and creating a comic book featuring themselves and their friends, Wade (Jake Richardson) and Joey (Tyler Long), as superheroes. Their alter egos are brought to life in animated sequences by Spawn creator Todd McFarlane. Their grim, strict, one-legged teacher, Sister Assumpta (Jodie Foster), is drawn as a motorcycle-riding supervillain. Vincent D'Onofrio plays the more easygoing Father Casey. Egged on by Tim, Francis admits that he has a crush on Margie Flynn (Jena Malone). Tim encourages Francis to pursue Margie, at one point even sending her a mash note and signing his friend's name. Francis and Margie eventually begin seeing each other. But when Margie reveals a terrible, painful secret to Francis, it sets off a chain of events that leads to tragedy. The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys marks the feature debut of director Peter Care. It was screened at several festivals, including the 2002 Sundance Film Festival. The film sparked a small controversy at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival, where it was rejected, allegedly in retaliation for producer Foster's decision to forego heading up the fest's jury in order to replace Nicole Kidman in Panic Room.

Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble - Ed Hulse
No, this isn't the tawdry, torn-from-the-headlines melodrama its title suggests. Dangerous Lives is actually one of the 2002's most surprising little movies -- a sensitive, tragicomic, and thoroughly enjoyable coming-of-age story set in a predominantly Irish-Catholic parochial school during the 1970s. Its dual protagonists are mischievous students Tim Sullivan (Kieran Culkin) and Francis Doyle (Emile Hirsch), whose rebellion against stern authority figures Sister Assumpta (Jodie Foster) and Father Casey (Vincent D'Onofrio) initially takes the form of a homemade and somewhat pornographic comic book they entitle "The Atomic Trinity." When their artistic endeavor is confiscated, the young teens plan a caper that will make them legendary -- if it doesn't backfire and cause more harm than intended. As helmed by veteran music-video director Peter Care, Lives is just a wee bit schizophrenic: While the most dazzling sequences are dynamic animated interludes (produced by Spawn creator Todd McFarlane) bringing the boys' comic-book fantasies to life, Care also crafts scenes of almost unutterable poignancy, including one that involves Francis and his erstwhile girlfriend (the radiant, soulful Jena Malone). Foster, who co-produced, seems almost laughably miscast as the peg-legged nun who persecutes her hell-raising young charges, but her intensity in the role is disarming, and Sister Assumpta emerges as one of her most memorable characterizations. Virtually unassailable in regard to setting, period, and character, this modest but engrossing film will yield new pleasures with each viewing at home. The DVD sports a commentary by Care and screenwriter Jeff Stockwell, along with a collection of the animated sequences (discussed by McFarlane), a Sundance Channel "Anatomy of a Scene" featurette, deleted scenes, cast and filmmaker interviews, and a gallery of concept drawings for the animated scenes.
All Movie Guide - Josh Ralske
The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys throws together live action and animation, lighthearted teen romance and serious family trauma, and raucous comedy and heavy, melodramatic tragedy. It's an intriguing mixture that doesn't quite gel. The film is at its best when it focuses on the simple joys of teens hanging out. In showing the four altar boys of the title fine-tuning their comic book characters or just thinking up more elaborate ways to get into trouble, director Peter Care and screenwriters Jeff Stockwell and Michael Petroni, abetted by a talented young cast, capture the perfect naturalistic tone. This is also true of the scenes in which Francis (Emile Hirsch) and Margie (Jena Malone) timidly explore their budding romance. The animation sequences by Todd McFarlane (Spawn) are sometimes jarringly bombastic, but they do capture a distinctly adolescent penchant for turning the real troubles of the world into dark, but manageable fantasy. The filmmakers chose to discard novelist Chris Fuhrman's specificity about the locale (the book takes place in Savannah), presumably to make the story more universal. This was a blunder, as the vagueness about where and when the film is set makes it less effective storytelling. There's also an awkwardness in the way the film will veer suddenly into tragedy, and some viewers will find the boys' exploits, particularly in the film's dramatic climax, more than a little hard to swallow. But the film is still fairly strong. Cinematographer Lance Acord (Buffalo 66, Being John Malkovich) does good work. Hirsch, Malone, and Kieran Culkin deliver creditable performances, and Jodie Foster and Vincent D'Onofrio lend excellent support.
Village Voice - J. Hoberman
The gentle comic treatment of adolescent sturm und drang should please fans of Chris Fuhrman's posthumously published cult novel.
New York Times
This bracingly truthful antidote to Hollywood teenage movies that slather Clearasil over the blemishes of youth captures the combustible mixture of a chafing inner loneliness and desperate grandiosity that tend to characterize puberty. Stephen Holden
Los Angeles Times
There's a streak of prankishness in the boys that goes pretty far, yet so rich and engaging is this film and its people that we never lose sympathy for them. Kevin Thomas

Product Details

Release Date:
Original Release:
Miramax Echo Bridge

Related Subjects

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Kieran Culkin Tim Sullivan
Jena Malone Margie Flynn
Emile Hirsch Francis Doyle
Vincent D'Onofrio Father Casey
Jodie Foster Sister Assumpta
Jake Richardson Wade
Tyler Long Joey Scalisi
Kelvin O'Bryant Craig Dockery

Technical Credits
Peter Care Director
Lance Acord Cinematographer
Marco Beltrami Score Composer
Scott Cameron Asst. Director
Pen Densham Executive Producer
Jodie Foster Producer
Marie France Costumes/Costume Designer
Tim Harbert Co-producer
Joshua Homme Score Composer
David A. Jones Executive Producer
Graham King Executive Producer
Meg LeFauve Producer
Laray Mayfield Casting
Todd McFarlane Animator
Chris Peppe Editor
Michael Petroni Screenwriter
Gideon Ponte Production Designer
Carl Rudisill Sound/Sound Designer
Jay Shapiro Producer
Jeff Stockwell Screenwriter
John K. Watson Executive Producer

Scene Index

Disc #1 -- The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys
1. Chapter 1 [9:59]
2. Chapter 2 [10:59]
3. Chapter 3 [10:00]
4. Chapter 4 [11:00]
5. Chapter 5 [9:59]
6. Chapter 6 [10:59]
7. Chapter 7 [10:00]
8. Chapter 8 [10:59]
9. Chapter 9 [9:59]
10. Chapter 10 [10:38]


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The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The animation was great-and the movie was fairly entertaining-Emile Hirsch and Kieran Culkin and Jodie Foster all do a good job in this movie-3 cheers for newcomer Hirsch!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved this movie, I fell in love with it when I first watched it, it's not like every other teen movie and I cant wait to read the book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thought the movie was funny and great! I really liked Emile Hirsch in this movie. HE was really good! and cute! I really liked Kieran Culckan to he was good! EMILE HIRSCH KEEP UP THE AWESOME JOB YOU LITTEL CUTIE!!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved this movie. Everyone in it is great. This movie pulled every emotion out of me. I was jealous, I laughed, I cried. I highly recommend it.