Set in the seemingly-idyllic planned community of New Granada, teenagers Carl (Michael Kramer), Richie (Matt Dillon), Claude (Tom Fergus) and Johnny (Tiger Thompson) lead an aimless life without much stimulation beside hanging out at their local recreation centre run by Julia (Julia Pomeroy). After Carl and Richie are arrested by local police officer Doberman (Harry Northup) on suspicion of vandalising a patrol car, a 9.30pm curfew is imposed on the area’s teenagers. Doberman’s continued harassment of Carl and his friends, climaxing in the closure of the recreation centre and his shooting of Richie, results in Carl and the other children confronting their parents during a community meeting about youth crime in the area, with explosive results.
Director Kaplan and screenwriters Charles S. Haas and Tim Hunter effectively establish the social dynamics of New Granada without needing to resort to one-dimensional stereotypes of either the teenage or adult characters. Whilst the issues faced by Carl and Richie are sufficiently explored, particularly their harassment by local law enforcement and the lack of opportunities provided for them, the adults are not depicted as simple antagonists. Carl’s parents are portrayed as being reasonably concerned about their son’s future and his friendship with the juvenile delinquent Richie.
In addition, despite some cheesy dialogue, Kaplan, Haas and Hunter manage to convey the average life of their teenage protagonists in a mostly-realistic manner that avoids sensationalism in favour of initially depicting them engaging in standard behaviour expected of people of their age group (drunken house parties, getting stoned). This approach extends to their handling of the escalation of Carl and Richie’s activities when they find a gun in the possession of Cory (Pamela Ludwig), with whom Carl later falls in love.
The main performances help to further add to the realistic nature of their respective characters, with Dillon in his debut role particularly essaying Richie’s volatile nature. However, it is Kramer who especially impresses as he charts Carl’s trajectory from frustrated teenager acting out to impromptu fugitive and ringleader in a manner that feels natural whilst also avoiding the potential pitfall of making him a one-dimensional ‘rebel without a cause’ stereotype. The adult actors also follow a similar route in realising their characters, with Andy Romano and Ellen Geer providing nuanced portrayals of Carl’s parents, ensuring that they are not simplistic hate figures for the audience’s benefit, but three-dimensional people whose concerns and priorities are understandable.
Over The Edge is an interesting addition to the ‘teen gangs gone wild’ mini-boom of films in 1979 that included the more well-known likes of The Warriors and The Wanderers. Whilst the scale is smaller, the issues dealt with are still similar (young people rebelling against a seemingly-uncaring society) and resonate even today due to Kaplan’s direction as well as the impressive screenplay and performances.
Available on Blu-ray now