Tony's Take

BEN IS BACK review

A Shocking, Realistic Portrait of Drug Addiction

Over the next few weeks, the box offices will be flooded by numerous films; plenty of them filled with cheer and joy.  However, “Ben is Back” follows a much different path entirely.  Ben (Lucas Hedges) surprises his family by coming home on Christmas Eve without any prior warning.  His mom, Holly (Julia Roberts), is beyond excited, but seeing the reaction from his sister, Ivy (Kathryn Newton), and his step father, Neal (Courtney B. Vance), clearly this is a dark and troubling past to Ben.  As it slowly comes into-focus, we learn that Ben is a recovering addict and was given permission from his sponsor to come home for Christmas.  Unfortunately, this couldn’t be further from the truth.  His tragic past haunts him at every turn and he must confront those from his previous life and the truth.  On Christmas Eve, after attending the church service, they come home to a break-in and discover their family dog is missing.  Ben knows there are only a handful of people who want revenge, so he and his mom jump in the car and search all over town, confronting Ben’s past head-on; no matter how shocking or painful it may be.

While it is a dangerous and unfortunate trend in society, film has had multiple drug addiction stories this year with each one diving-into a different consequence of its action.  “Ben is Back” is led-by Hedges and Roberts’ stunning, charismatic performances as a recovering addict who wants to change and an unstoppable mom is willing to do anything and everything to save her son.  Hedges continues to prove he’s one of the best of his generation, you can truly feel the raw desire for change and his honesty with every grin and mannerism.  The supporting cast is equally as strong, with Vance and Newton both given their moments to shine.  Instead of just focusing on the mom-son aspect, “Ben is Back” also includes Ben’s complicated relationship with his step father, sister, and his two younger siblings as well; showcasing how the past can leave a lasting impact on one’s family.

While the first half revolves around the family drama and piecing together the pieces of Ben’s past, the second half delves into facing the consequences of his previous lifestyle.  This is one of the aspects of the film that truly separate from others in the drug addiction movie world.  Instead of following familiar and overplayed tropes, Peter Hedges gives us a shocking, realistic story that seems like it could be happening or even be based on a true story.  He absolutely takes a gamble with the film’s final minutes, but it is one with an incredible emotional payoff and accomplishes his goal; drug addiction is not a fairy tale and that there a dangerous and grave consequences to your actions.  At 103 minutes, “Ben is Back” keeps you tense and uneasy until after you leave the theater; my body physically felt as if it just took a beating.  “Ben is Back” packs a raw, tremendous, and stunning punch that paints a beautiful canvas of life; proving that it is not all happiness and rainbows.  The film feels remarkably real and timely and Hedges and Roberts are a tour-de-force!  I sincerely hope this film does not get lost in the shuffle of the holiday movie season; it deserves to be seen!

 4/5    

BEN IS BACK is rated R for language throughout and some drug use, in theaters DECEMBER 7TH!

 

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