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Review: ‘Teacher’ lets David Dastmalchian channel his inner Travis Bickle

Kevin Pollak, David Dastmalchian, ‘Teacher’
Kevin Pollak, left, and David Dastmalchian in the movie “Teacher.”
(Cinedigm)

Adam Dick makes a solid feature writing-directing debut with “Teacher,” a tense and propulsive thriller with several vital, provocatively rendered thoughts on its seething mind. This unsettling look at our culture of cruelty, based on Dick’s 2017 short, forcefully posits that, especially these days, the meek shall inherit nothing — unless they take some serious action.

David Dastmalchian stars as James Lewis, a mild-mannered, tightly wound high school English teacher who finds himself defending two of his students — sensitive photographer Preston (Matthew Garry) and insecure Daniela (Esme Perez) — from the harmful bullying tactics of popular classmate Tim (Curtis Edward Jackson), a sociopathic rich kid.

But James, who’s going through a tough divorce (and has suppressed anger and alcohol issues) is powered not only by a sense of fairness but the eternal memory of his own bullied childhood. It may be many years later, but he can still right some wrongs.

How James gets there proves gripping and harrowing, if at times a tad implausible. Dastmalchian, not unlike Robert De Niro in “Taxi Driver” (to which this film owes a slight debt), capably walks that fine line between saintly and unhinged.

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Kevin Pollak is frighteningly good as Tim’s harshly demanding, businessman father whose money and power cowers James’ bosses and deceptively protects his son.

“Teacher” expertly gets under your skin — and stays there.

'Teacher'
Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes

Playing: Starts Aug. 2, Laemmle Glendale; on VOD August 13


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