BEAUTIFUL BOY (2018)

October 25, 2018

 Greetings again from the darkness. There is absolutely nothing that compares to being a parent. Sorry, pet lovers, it’s not even close. And I’m not referring to the romantic notion of having one’s DNA live on as legacy. Rather, nothing compares to the weight of never-a-break responsibility felt in keeping a helpless newborn alive and properly nourished. And later, teaching the right life lessons so that it’s not your kid who bullies others in school, or steals, or damages the property of others. Someone’s kid is going to do those things, and most of us try our darndest to prevent it from being our kid. The reality is, that even the most attentive and best-intentioned parents can sometimes fall victim to a force beyond their control. Such is the situation in writer-director Felix Van Groeningen’s film (co-written with Luke Davis) based on the two memoirs penned by father and son David and Nic Sheff.

We open on David (Steve Carell) disclosing to a physician (Timothy Hutton) that his son Nic (Timothee Chalamet) is addicted to crystal meth, and asking two questions: 1. What is it doing to him? 2. What can I do to help him? The quiet desperation and pain is plainly evident on David’s face. We know immediately that this Steve Carell movie won’t be packed with laughs.

What follows is the harsh reality of drug addiction. Rehab – Relapse – Repeat. Much of the story is dedicated to David’s struggle and devotion to helping his son Nic in any way possible. He’s a helpless father who refuses to give up on his son, despite the constant desperation and frustration. Every glimmer of hope is soon crushed by yet another lie and more drugs. The film is such a downer that it makes LEAVING LAS VEGAS look like an old Disney classic.

Bouncing between timelines is a device that works for many stories, but here it seems to take away some of the poignancy and depth of some scenes. Just as we are being absorbed into a crucial moment, the film often breaks away to an earlier or later time. This is effective in getting the point across about the never-ending struggles, but we lose momentum on particular segments.

Supporting work comes courtesy of 4 talented actresses: Amy Ryan (as Nic’s mother and David’s ex-wife), Maury Tierney (as David’s current wife), Kaitlyn Dever (Nic’s girlfriend), and LisaGay Hamilton (involved in rehab). It’s a bit odd to see the mini-reunion of Ms. Ryan and Mr. Carell from their time on “The Office”, but mostly the on screen time is pretty limited for all four women. The reason this film works is the devastating work of two fine actors – Steve Carell and Timothee Chalamet. We never doubt dad’s commitment, just as we never doubt son’s helplessness in getting clean.

The soundtrack acts as a boost to the dialogue with such songs (perhaps a bit too convenient and obvious) as John Lennon’s “Beautiful Boy”, Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold”, and Perry Como’s “Sunrise, Sunset”. It’s debatable whether it’s possible for a movie to look “too good”, but it’s a bit off-putting to admire the camera work while someone is struggling on screen with drug addiction. The downward spiral of drug addiction feeds on the misery, and while we all enjoy beautiful cinematography, this is the rare time that it’s distracting – possibly preventing viewers from going all in. The inherent lesson here is that we can’t always save people from themselves. Knowing what to do isn’t always possible, and sometimes there is simply no right answer … even with “Everything”.

watch the trailer:

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THE GHOST WRITER (2010)

February 26, 2010

(2-26-10)

 Greetings again from the darkness. It’s not very often we get new releases from Martin Scorcese (Shutter Island) and Roman Polanski within a week of each other. And both are thrillers. And both stories are immersed in water. And both have lead characters who might not be what they seem. Heck both films have PLENTY of characters who might not be what they seem!

Say what you will about Mr. Polanski as a human being, but he is a craftsmen when it comes to film. Rosemary’s Baby, The Tenant and Chinatown are all classics. Here he works with the source material from Robert Harris’ novel. The story is centered around the process of an ex-British Prime Minister writing his memoirs through the use of a ghost writer. Oh yeah, this ex-Prime Minister is accused of being overly friendly with the U.S. and may have even committed war crimes? Sound familiar? Yes, Adam Lang, played convincingly by Pierce Brosnan, has numerous similarities to Tony Blair.

Ewan McGregor plays the nameless ghost, actually a replacement for the original ghost, who died under suspicious circumstances. Polanski channels Hitchcock by making every character either a suspect or, at a minimum, suspicious. The use of water, rain, stark surroundings, cozy double-edged dialogue, and even a note passed in a key moment all evoke the master of suspense and thrills.

Olivia Williams is Brosnan’s tormented wife who remains oddly loyal and involved despite full acknowledgment of his mistress-assistant (another horrible performance from Kim Cattrall). Timothy Hutton is solid in his role as Brosnan’s attorney, and James Belushi does much with the small role of publisher. Ninety-something year old Eli Wallach is very cool and spirited in his short scene, and Tom Wilkinson adds another powerful turn to his sterling resume.

All of these people could be the “who” in who-dunnit; however, we aren’t even sure what the crime is. Or how many crimes have been committed. The only thing that keeps this one from being an instant classic is the lack of a truly complex web of intrigue. Don’t get me wrong, it will keep you glued for the entire time, but I would have enjoyed a few more clues and dead-ends and real investigative work, rather than the stumbling curiosity of a ghost writer. Still, the story is strong enough and the acting is fine enough to make this one worth seeing. Need to also mention the score … a fabulous score is a necessity in a thriller, and this one is top notch.