Reviewed by: Robert Munro

Josh Wiggins in Hellion
"Chandler's excellent script allows the raw drama to take centre stage." | Photo: Brett Pawlak

Fresh from the phenomenal success of TV series Breaking Bad, Aaron Paul's first big lead role was in Need For Speed, and there were those of us that worried that an actor of huge potential would be lost in a series of brainless, big-budget Hollywood franchise films. His quietly brilliant performance in Kat Chandler's intimate family drama Hellion should dispel those fears and help to mark him out as an actor of true substance.

Paul plays Hollis Wilson (what a great blue collar American name that is), a father struggling to cope with his two young sons after the death of his wife. Giving him most grief is 13-year-old Jacob (Josh Wiggins), who is quickly racking up a record with the fuzz that will see him headed straight for a Juvenile Detention Centre.

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Chandler's excellent script allows the raw drama to take centre stage, without any over-handed exposition or over-wrought emotional exchanges to divert the attention. Josh Wiggins is outstanding as Jacob. He's angry and confused; his mum dead and his father often absent or drunk, what is he to make of the world? His only escape is loud music and even louder motocross racing.

Juliette Lewis plays caring and condescending aunt Pam, who is awarded custody of Hollis's younger son Wes (Deke Garner). Pam's motives are in the right place, but perhaps her execution of them is lacking and the family becomes more divided: father from son, brother from brother.

The film is not only concerned with the crumbling Wilson family, but with the small town troubles of Texas. Jacob's friends are all equally confused, with the divorces and affairs of their parents a common topic of conversation. That bastion of the Texas community, school football, also comes in for some interesting treatment. While the community cheers on the local team, Jacob, smashes and sets fire to a pick-up truck in the parking lot. After the brothers are separated, Wes is cheered on scoring a touchdown by Aunt Pam, while Jacob and Hollis watch on further down the sideline - quite literally sidelined - in what should be a moment of shared family joy.

Chandler's script perhaps wavers later on in the film, as the drama escalates, and almost falls into an unfortunate melodramatic trap, but shows restraint and confidence in the raw and natural nature of the drama, without forcing things too much. Both Aaron Paul and Josh Wiggins are quite remarkable in helming this picture, which is an emotionally engaging pleasure from beginning to end.

Reviewed on: 28 Jun 2014
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An alcoholic father struggles to keep his adolescent son out of jail and give him a better life.

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