Addiction has a popular topic for Oscar bait movies for as long there has been Oscar bait moves. Requiem for a Dream, Leaving Las Vegas, 21 Grams and Traffic just to name a few. In the last year alone we’ve had both A Star is Born and Beautiful Boy and Ben is Back is another one. That being said while a drama about a drug-addicted child and the effect that it has their family is hardly revolutionary in some ways Ben Is Back is a fine example of the genre.
One of the reasons for the plethora of addiction movies is the opportunity it gives its actors. The addict trying desperately to stay clean, the caring friend/parent/lover struggling to see their loved one in pain. Ben is Back is no exception. Lucas Hedges gives a powerhouse performance showing him as not just an addict but as a loving and caring son and brother. Julia Roberts is stunning as the mother trying to figure out how to best help her son and Kathryn Newton and Courtney B. Vance give strong supporting performances as the sister and stepfather each struggling with Ben in their own way.
The performances in the movie would not be possible without the writing and direction of Peter Hedges (father of Lucas Hedges). His direction was while simple is also masterful. Most of the film has a tense atmosphere that you can’t help to engage with it. That in large part comes back to Peter Hedges’ direction. His writing on the other hand is less so. If Ben is Back was just about a family dealing with a drug affected child it would be a remarkable piece of cinema but sadly the movie becomes another beast entirely about two thirds of the way through the film and from then on it felt like a different movie. A movie I liked far less.
Overall Ben is Back is not the greatest addiction movie to ever exist but it is definately worthy of joining the ranks. If the film chose to focus on this particular family dealing with drug addiction rather than drug addiction as a whole the movie would be better for it.
As always if you want to check out my audio review please check it out.