Dismissed is a psychological thriller which has more to it than first appears, about an intellectual student who also has more to him than first appears.
Dismissed is a very interesting film: it would be a perfectly satisfactory thriller to casually pass the time with, but if you give it a bit more attention than that, the payoff is subtly strong. It is essentially about Mr. Butler, an average teacher at a secondary school who has high hopes for career progress, largely based on not rocking the boat too much and integrity where it’s due. Along comes Lucas, a new transfer student, way more intelligent and precocious than his classmates. Butler takes a shine to the new student; but when Lucas receives a grade (in an essay about Othello) that falls just below an A, it turns out his nature may be more psychopath than gifted after all.
Kent Osborne plays Mr. Butler; and although it must have been difficult to portray someone so dull and seemingly sheltered (especially as a model for kids), he does a good job. The character is indeed very fallible, and someone who would hardly stand out at all in real life. And his personality (if you can call it that) is so well presented that it’s easy to see why those around and above him don’t take him seriously. I’ll look out for Osborne, and hope to see him play more nuanced parts: I bet he has it in him.
Dylan Sprouse was the star, though, and truly memorable. His Lucas was a manipulative charmer, and I kept thinking of Funny Games as I watched his magnetic face. If you’re not drawn to Dismissed because of anything else in this review, give it a try to be impressed by him.
Dismissed may be difficult to pitch to the right audience, I think because the director, Benjamin Arfmann, may have been trying to avoid standard formulas. Consequently, it is a film of hybrids: a psychological thriller, but not too deep or complex. Set in a school, yet not a shallow “teen movie”. Tense, though without overdone dramatic music. Personally, I liked Dismissed and found it interesting because of how surprisingly subtle it was at times… indeed, although the opening and the polished characters led me to expect something formulaic, it wasn’t at all. But I’m sure some viewers might call it middle-of-the-road, or declare the film doesn’t know which genre it belongs to. My view is that it could be an ideal entry for adolescent viewers into grown-up thrillers: if they have had their fill of inane teen films, here is one which is more serious and tense without explicit violence, and “adult themes” are kept to a minimum.
Granted the plot was fairly linear, taking a mild tangent halfway through, rather than an outright twist, making Dismissed an undemanding watch. And there were definitely a few things that wouldn’t happen in real life, just like most thrillers. But it demonstrated to me that a film doesn’t have to be terribly demanding or high brow to have some intelligence behind it… Because it avoided the trope that those without much savvy deserve to be victims, and because a shocking plot can be allowed to speak for itself, rather than having the production style or soundtrack spoon-feed the fear to us.