If you ever watched The Breakfast Club and wondered what happened to Judd Nelson, look no further. The class rebel has swapped his combats for corduroy and taken a post as inspirational teacher Mr Knowles. He complains to the headmaster about school conditions (freezing temperatures, lack of textbooks) and when his students back him up, the head turns nasty and sets local cop Forest Whitaker on the kids. In the scuffle, the cop's gun goes flying and it rapidly degenerates into a hostage situation.
There's some tension and suspense, with the rest of New York's police force closing in on the school, but the hallmark of the movie is a series of intelligent, mostly understated performances by the young leads. Lester (Usher Raymond) is struggling to understand the death of his father at the hands of the police. Ziggy (Robert Ri'chard) tries to escape domestic violence through art, while Stephanie (Rosario Dawson) is a grade A student who doesn't have the academic stage on which to shine.
Underpinning all these is Whitaker in another striking showing. Despite spending much of the film in a sitting position, his inarticulate, angry, wretched cop is a nuanced character who develops most over the course of the stand-off. With his shambling gait and his round face, Whitaker has never looked like a leading man. He has range, emotional craft and a priceless ability to underplay, with slow-boiling, almost muted characters.