BEN IS BACK

Cert 15 102mins Stars 3

Julia Roberts proves she still has the power to smack a cinematic nerve in this mainstream drug addiction drama.

As the mother of an adult son, Ben, who makes an impromptu visit from his rehabilitation clinic, Roberts has chosen a role which demonstrates her acting range, social awareness and undiminished screen presence.

With a tighter script and more inspired direction it may have earned the Pretty Woman star a fifth Oscar nomination, to sit alongside this years Golden Globe nomination for her TV series, Homecoming.

Ben is played with an ambiguous intensity by Lucas Hedges, who was deservedly Oscar nominated for 2016’s heartbreaking drama, Manchester by the Sea, and he shares Roberts’ ability to suggest fragility and pain, with flashes of anger escaping a facade of forced and slightly manic charm.

We’re never sure whether Ben is clean of drugs or even if he has permission from his visit, and though he promises this time will be different for his step-dad and siblings, a home invasion draws mother and son back into his dark world of hard drugs.

As Ben attempts to save his family from further trouble and and seemingly atone for his past crimes, his motivations and intentions become ever more suspect.

Written and directed by Hedges’ father, Peter, who previously adapted Hugh Grant’s About a Boy, in 2002, his script does a great job of sketching how pervasive small town drug use is, and studiously links illegal and medical drug addiction.

However the complexity of first half is let down when the plot takes on typical thriller trappings of shadowy addicts cowering next to braziers under bridges.

Stridently anti-drug, yet compassionate and not preachy, the church choir opening scene indicates the possibility of redemption. And though the Christmas setting is overplayed and then forgotten, Roberts is at her formidable best when refusing to be an angelic saviour.

 

 

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