Ben is Back Movie Review - Exploring addiction with rare sensitivity
There are times when the plotting seems contrived and questionable but by and large Peter Hedges does a good job plying a pathway that has hurdles at every turn
Ben is Back
Director: Peter Hedges
Cast: Julia Roberts, Lucas Hedges, Courtney B. Vance, Kathryn Newton
A family drama that makes substance abuse look like the enemy of humanity it is, this Peter Hedges directed film dramatically shifts its moods from celebration to welcoming to fearful – all in the span of a few minutes.
When Ben(Lucas Hedges) shows up skulking around at his home driveway in a hooded wind-breaker the audience is unsure as to his antecedents. Then his mother Holly(Julia Roberts), his teenage sister Ivy(Kathryn Newton) and two half-siblings (Mia Fowler and Jakari Fraser) arrive home and we see the trepidation tinted welcome he receives. When his step-father Neal(Courtney B Vance) rushes home after receiving Ivy's urgent message, we understand there's further gravity to the situation.
Director Peter Hedges opens up his pages slowly allowing us to experience in some measure as to what the family is going through. Eventually it becomes imminently clear that Ben's return for Christmas from a rehab program he was recently inducted into, is unexpected and ill-advised.
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While 'Ben is Back' is not exactly a dense suspense drama it draws up intensity from a construct that questions the integrity of it's lead character. Since it's a story about an addict and his struggle with addiction the question that haunts his family and himself is 'Will he use again?' He has sworn and swears again that he won't but he has lied before and given his track record should his family believe him? It's a tough ask. But then what about love, compassion and forgiveness? Can a mother really abandon her child to the vagaries of a habit that could eventually destroy him? The film deals with all these questions and more and the answers that it comes up with are neither easy nor universally applicable.
As Holly takes on the onus of keeping Ben in her sights, she uncovers secrets that test her mothering skills –throughout an increasingly harrowing day and night exposing her to an underbelly that she never opened her eyes to in the past.
There are times when the plotting seems contrived and questionable but by and large Peter Hedges does a good job plying a pathway that has hurdles at every turn. The dramatic tension though is not sharp enough and that's one of the reasons why you feel rather ambivalent about this tale. Performances are universally good though!
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