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No matter how much you've heard about the raw pain and reality of Catherine Hardwicke's debut drama Thirteen, it's still going to blow you away. Thanks to a powerful script and an astonishing performance by Evan Rachel Wood, the story of a seventh-grade girl's descent into drugs, crime, and sex was one of the scariest — and most compelling — movies released in 2003. Tracy (Once and Again's Wood) begins the movie as a normal enough teen: She's exasperated by her flighty mother Melanie (Holly Hunter, also excellent), but she loves and more or less respects her; she's intimidated by junior high, but she resolves to work hard and get good grades. Then she sees trendy, rebellious, popular Evie Zamora (Nikki Reed, who co-wrote the script with Hardwicke based on Reed's own experiences), and everything changes. Because she's at the age when who your friends are matters more than any guy, Tracy overhauls her wardrobe, her hair, and — most dangerously — her behavior in order to earn Evie's attention. And it works. Before long, Tracy and Evie are inseparable, flitting around L.A. in matching belly Ts, thongs, and tongue rings, and trying everything from picking pockets to dealing drugs. Meanwhile, poor Melanie — a single mom, recovering alcoholic, and compulsive nurturer — is at her wits' end; no matter what she says to Tracy, her daughter refuses to hear her. Melanie can't break through Tracy's glittery, trashy jailbait façade to access the deep rage and insecurity that the girl can't express. It would be easy to judge Tracy, to get mad at her for throwing away her potential and her relationship with her family. But because Wood lets moments of extreme vulnerability show on Tracy's young, confused face, we feel sorry for her instead — and, like Melanie, one just wants to hold her until the pain goes away. If this is what Reed (who plays manipulative, emotionally needy Evie with a knowing flair) really went through, thank goodness she managed to find her way back — and thank goodness Hardwicke and a keyboard were waiting for her. Fox's double-sided DVD includes anamorphic (1.85:1) and full-frame transfers; both showcase Elliot Davis's vivid handheld photography very well. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio also is strong (other audio options include Spanish and French Dolby 2.0 Surround tracks and English and Spanish subtitles). Hardwicke, Wood, Reed, and Brady Corbett (who plays Tracy's brother Mason) reunite for an often-giggly audio commentary; Side A also offers a six-minute "making-of" featurette and the trailer, while Side B plays host to a set of ten deleted/extended scenes. Keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech

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