25th Mar2019

‘Ben is Back’ Review

by Jak-Luke Sharp

Stars: Julia Roberts, Lucas Hedges, Courtney B. Vance, Kathryn Newton, Rachel Bay Jones, David Zaldivar, Alexandra Park, Michael Esper, Tim Guinee, Myra Lucretia Taylor, Kristin Griffith, Jack Davidson, Mia Fowler, Jakari Fraser, Cameron Roberts | Written and Directed by Peter Hedges

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Ben is Back, directed by Peter Hedges, faces strong competition in this year’s “Armageddon vs Deep Impact” cinematic war/rivalry against Felix van Groeningen’s Beautiful Boy. Two incredibly alike films that follow a parent and drug-addicted son relationship in the emotionally tormenting journey that both travel on. Peter Hedges film stands firmly on its own ground with a semi-captivating drama that hits with a suffocating gut punch of emotionally draining brutality but gets lost on the path it travels with excessively dramatic plot elements that are executed more in the realm of the absurd than captivating.

The unnecessary plot elements, while not destructive to the films overall narrative or resonance of emotional depth, are unfortunately executed in an underwhelming effect. Which of course begs the question why on earth would they be incorporated in the first place? Perhaps to add a distinctive and intense layer that stands itself proud against its contemporaries but ultimately its executed with the same restraint function found in Michael Bay’s Bad Boys II. It’s far too loud for its own good and the films central main purpose. Taking over too much of the narrative with the end result slightly detrimental to the film that could have been. For instance, take away these overly explosive drug mule sub-plots and stage the film in an isolated location such as the house and allow the film to convey and speak through characters and what unleashes is a boiling pot of fiery threads and atmosphere. Instead, we’re left with an overly ambitious and melodramatic narrative. Taking up a huge junk of running time in which the film could flourish with the dramatic flair it so expertly inhabits, which just so happens to be the films greatest strength in the performances of Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges, who are both marvellous in their respective roles.

Lucas Hedges, working with his father, is terrific as titular character Ben Burns. Hedges, as per his outstanding standard brings a notable gravitas to each and every role and his performance in Ben is Back is absolutely no different in terms of excellent conviction. He inhabits this character with remarkably dejected grandeur that once it gets hold of you, attaches with haunting precedent. The little instances of character devotion in his long fuse of honesty, the over committal of acceptance in the family circle are just a few superbly subtle instances of character development carefully implemented. Julia Roberts, however, puts forward a performance that might be her best in what is possibly over two decades of work. The emotional weight Roberts carries as Holly Burns is outstanding. She’s captivating and compelling in how she conveys the underbelly of trauma and angst. It swells and syphons itself into a multitude of areas of her characteristics and much life what Hedges does as her son, crafts a more personalised and resonating character that you just sit helplessly as the stand by you are and absorb in the torment she withstands.

Ben is Back is out now.

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