Director Peter Hedges cast for his drug drama BEN IS BACK his own son Lucas. In doing so, the newcomer not only once again underlines his knack for choosing the perfect role, but also what a gifted actor he is. We reveal more about this in our review.
The Plot Summary
Holly Burns (Julia Roberts) is torn when her 19-year-old son Ben (Lucas Hedges) unexpectedly shows up at the door on Christmas Eve. The mother of four would like to believe that her eldest has finally got his drug problem under control. But the doubts remain. Sister Ivy (Kathryn Newton) and stepfather Neal (Courtney B. Vance) in particular are skeptical. Hasn’t he thrown the family into chaos often enough? In the turbulent 24 hours that follow, Holly tries everything to keep her family together and protect Ben from himself – and in the process finds out more about his life than she would have liked…
Movie explanation of the ending
Lucas Hedges has been in front of the camera since 2007, but the film world only really took notice of him after his performance in Kenneth Lonergan’s drama “Manchester by the Sea”, which was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Since then, things have been going uphill for the 22-year-old son of a director and a poet. Last year he was seen in two Oscar frontrunners (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” and “Lady Bird”), and this season his films “The Prodigal Son” and “Ben Is Back” are at least part of the extended circle expected nominees and award winners. One thing you have to admit to Hedges: the roles he chooses are demanding and substantial – and consideration for film awards is therefore almost inevitable. While in “The Prodigal Son” he plays the role of a homosexual undergoing compulsory therapy (already honored with a Golden Globe nomination), in “Ben Is Back” he embodies a drug addict in rehab – all under his own guidance Father Peter Hedges (“The Miraculous Life of Timothy Green”) which is anything but a given given the tough subject matter. Lucas Hedges approaches his new task with the expected willingness to sacrifice and handles the drama together with a no less outstanding Julia Roberts (“Wonder”). The script and direction are a little behind, although “Ben Is Back” is still definitely worth seeing.
Holly (Julia Roberts) and her son (Lucas Hedges) drive to a cemetery where Ben has to choose a place for his grave.
The simple title “Ben Is Back” basically anticipates everything important about Peter Hedges’ drug drama, which is influenced by real experiences: the moment Ben, who is actually in therapy, is back with his family, the events take their course. From now on, “Ben Is Back” can be divided into two halves, both of which are credibly staged in their own way and yet so completely different that Peter Hedges doesn’t always bring them together harmoniously. The initial phase is particularly intense: less than five minutes go by and Ben’s unexpected arrival is disrupting the family structure at what is actually a contemplative Christmas time. The scenes between him and his mother, portrayed with utmost devotion by Julia Roberts, are among the strongest, precisely because of her detailed observation. Putting away the medication in the bathroom, waiting in front of the open door while her son pees, the calming words that Ben must never move away from his mother for a second – Peter Hedges stages all of these scenes so calmly, while Julia Roberts directs them with passion and passion must be presented so that the seriousness of the situation is never underestimated. At the same time, an omnipresent tension builds up within the four walls of the house, which arises from the fact that Peter Hedges’ smart script has kept Ben’s past a secret for a long time: What exactly has actually happened that has caused tensions within the family to rise since Ben’s appearance let it be formally taken hold of?
Through Hedges’ careful disclosure of various details, a coherent whole emerges over time. That’s not particularly spectacular – anyone who expects an over-the-top twist due to the author and director’s stalling tactics may actually be disappointed by “Ben Is Back”. Especially in the first half, the film is simply a realistic drug drama, which not only tells the fate of an addict, but above all about the co-dependence of those around him. “Ben Is Back” gains intensity not only in the interaction between Roberts and Lucas Hedges. It is precisely the scenes in which the small world of the Burns family collides with the one in which Ben became an addict that reveal the full extent of the family catastrophe. Hedges shows no false shyness here and sometimes even goes to the point of accusing society as a whole. What remains particularly memorable is an encounter between Holly and Ben’s former doctor, whose prescribed medication laid the foundation for Ben’s addiction. Here the deeply sad “Ben Is Back” also becomes an angry film that questions an entire system. Hedges would have liked to have gone into more detail here; So at this point it only remains a matter of penetrating observations that pass far too quickly. At the same time, “Ben Is Back” ultimately represents an individual fate that develops into a real thriller in the second half of the film.
Holly worries about her son. Was he really allowed to go home for the Christmas holidays?
With the disappearance of a small dog as the trigger for a series of adventurous events, the tone of the film changes: the intimate mother-son drama now becomes a milieu thriller that retains its narrow narrative radius, although this shifts the observational priorities. The subliminal triggers for Ben’s addictive behavior lurking everywhere now become sources of danger that aggressively beg for his attention when Ben and his mother have to look for the same dog among the people who were directly involved in Ben’s drug addiction. It’s not so much the dealers, who mostly remain in the dark (or who offend you because of their unspectacular appearance) that keep the atmosphere in “Ben Is Back” thick. In the second half, which is predominantly based on suspense, Peter Hedges concentrates entirely on Holly’s fears, which threaten to burst when she has to stop in front of closed doors, but which her son has just walked through as a matter of course. And so the developments, which are taken to extremes in the final third, no longer feel quite as lifelike as everything that happens in the first 45 minutes, but the emotional chaos of mother and son remains constantly tangible and understandably tragic.
Conclusion: “Ben Is Back” is a gripping, sensitive drug drama that falls a bit in two halves in terms of narrative. At least both are convincing in their own right – also because Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges are consistently strong.
“Ben Is Back” can be seen in USA cinemas from January 10th.