The documentary “The Rule” looks at St. Benedict’s Preparatory School at the 157-year-old Benedictine Abbey of Newark, N.J., a Catholic monastery run by monks robed in 6th century cassocks.
Newark spends $1 billion annually on education, but only 32% of its students pass the High School Proficiency Assessment (a figure cited by Gov. Chris Christie but disputed by the New Jersey Department of Education). In the very same poverty- and crime-plagued environment, St. Benedict’s boasts a nearly 100% college acceptance rate based on a structured, tough-love teaching philosophy adhering to the Rule of St. Benedict precepts.
The school’s track record is worthy of note, but the film often feels like a recruitment, orientation or fund-raising video. All the talking heads are St. Benedict’s teachers, administrators, support staff, alumni and just one student — the responsible senior student leader Akeem Miller. Naturally, they toot their own horn.
Newark-based filmmaker Marylou Tibaldo-Bongiorno does a lot of telling and little showing. Only one scene — involving headmaster Edwin Leahy and counseling director-assistant headmaster Ivan Lamourt meeting with a student and his guardians — stands out for tangibly demonstrating how the school helps change lives.
To his credit, Leahy acknowledges that racism once caused infighting among the monks in the aftermath of the 1967 Newark riots. His candor here lends the film credibility. More objectivity would have made this case study a lot more persuasive.
MPAA rating: None.
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.
Playing: At Laemmle’s Town Center 5, Encino.