Eye For Film >> Movies >> Better Things (2008) Film Review
Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson
Ever since Trainspotting, the British film industry has become so addicted to drugs and its depiction of drug taking and the consequences, that it is hard to believe there is really much left to say on the matter – Duane Hopkins has found something, though, and his surprisingly quiet film speaks volumes.
This is because, where other films have chosen to go down urban routes described variously as "gritty", "violent" and, occasionally, "blackly comic", Hopkins has opted for a style that is in your face in quite another fashion. But it isn't just the drugs he wants us to consider, it's the nature of countryside living in general now we've reached the Noughties.
This is rural Britain – the press notes say it's the Cotswolds, but it could just as easily be Lincolnshire, Norfolk or anywhere in "England's green and pleasant land". There are no dark, satanic mills here, except in the heads of the central protagonists.
Rob (William McIlfatrick) is a heroin addict who has just lost his girlfriend Tess to the drug. We've seen her, lying in her mum's neat suburban house, needle in her arm, dead. But where do you find solace after the loss of a loved one if you, and all your friends, are addicts too? Even getting clean seems to be an almost impossible option thanks to the system. One of them, Larry (Kurt Taylor), is raging against love, too, consumed by jealousy about his girlfriend Rachel (Megan Palmer), while another couple are coping with separation brought on by college.
Love is an altogether simpler construct for Gail (Rachel McIntyre) but she is just as isolated in her own way. An agoraphobic, she finds solace between the covers of romance novels, trapped within her house, while her nan (Patricia Loveland) is trapped in the room next door, desperate to escape the claustrophobia and feel the wind in her face but unable to due to illness. But for Mr and Mrs Gladwin (played by real-life man and wife Frank and Betty Bench), true love comes at a price that may prove extremely painful, no matter how old you are.
"Real life was difficult, at best," reads Gail to herself, from her book, and Hopkins shows us just how difficult these very different sorts of realities can be. Paradoxically, all these people are connected by their isolation – a tessellation of unhappiness still looking for hope.
While studies of isolation have been made before, Hopkins uses his camera to really make you take a long, hard look at these people. His fixed camera – no shaky drug-fuelled parties here – drinks in every inch of each person's loneliness. He wants us to take a good look. In order to help you fix your gaze, this is not a violent film. There is some swearing and some drug taking but it is measured and there for a purpose. This is not a glorification of drug-taking, neither is it a condemnation of those who find themselves in that predicament. It's an examination of these people's reality – they never seem to get any sort of blissful 'high', the drugs are a type of dead end escape route.
In addition to his lingering lensing, Hopkins also uses sound to help us get a feel for the emotional struggles of the characters. The 'oblivion' brought on by smoking heroin, so that a person can only concentrate on one thing at once; the noise of the wind in the trees as loud as a jet engine for an agarophobic.
Since this is, despite the shreds of hope lurking in the wings, almost unremittingly desolate (though not in the grim, grimy way you probably expect), it will not be for everyone. Some patience is required to go with the rhythms of the film, but it is richly rewarded. Hopkins marks himself out as a man of unique vision who isn't afraid to try something different to encourage an audience to think.Reviewed on: 23 Jun 2008
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