13 December 2018 | bob-the-movie-man
Trying to climb a slippery pole.
As John Lennon's lyrics go:
"'Cause it's a long way to go,
A hard row to hoe
Yes, it's a long way to go"
And so it proves for young Nic Sheff (Timothée Chalamet). For - based on a true story - Nic has progressively worked through the encyclopaedia of drugs until he has arrived at "C for Crystal Meth" where he is working through a recurring nightmare of addiction and attempted rehab.
What's harder... being the victim of drugs or being the caring onlookers desperately hoping that this attempt to climb the slippery pole to recovery will be a successful one? This is reflected as a key aspect of the film, and as a parent it makes for a very hard watch. The 'caring onlookers' in this case are Nic's father David (Steve Carell), his girlfriend Karen Barbour (Maura Tierney), the couple's natural children Jasper (Christian Convery) and Daisy (Oakley Bull), and David's ex-wife and Nic's mother Vicki (Amy Ryan).
This is only the 2nd English-language film from director Felix van Groeningen (after 2012's " The Broken Circle Breakdown") and the film has its fair share of impressive directorial flourishes such that Felix might need to get added to that elusive list of "famous Belgians"! Not least among them is the use of flashbacks. The film starts with a 12 month flashback, but then throughout the story David flashes back to scenes of his boy's childhood. Many of these reflect the regret in perhaps failing to identify ways he could have done things differently to avoid the current crisis.
While many of these flashbacks are sudden and unexpected, I didn't find them confusing to follow although I can see how they might annoy some viewers who prefer a more 'linear' storytelling approach.
Above all, it is the acting performances that make this film, and the four key cast members all turn in memorable turns. It's excruciating watching Carell's parental anguish and then (like a blast of light) his realization of a truth he'd been avoiding for a long time. It's Chalamet though who truly shines, delivering fully on the realization of the tortured and self-torturing Nic. Already nominated for a Golden Globe, I would have thought another Oscar nomination is assured for this. ER's Maura Tierney also excels in a quieter supporting role: something that generally seems to be her niche at the movies.
This is most definitely a gruelling movie from beginning to end - especially for parents of young teens - and as such it feels a lot longer than it's 2 hour running time suggests. But it is well worth the effort. A drama that really delivers on its message: "just say no". It rather frustrates me that the film is a UK 15 certificate. Not that I'm criticising the BBFC here, since with graphic drug taking, a lot of choice language and one (not overly graphic) sex scene, the rating is appropriate. However this would seem to me to be required viewing by every 13 year old, since if Chalomet's performance can't drill the message home to not climb onto that pole in the first place, then noone can.
(For the full graphical review, please check out One Mann's Movies on the web and Facebook. Thanks).