The drifter's story is one of bewilderment. Things happen, things move on - jobs, girls, drugs.

"Maybe living and dying is the same," he thinks. "The fact we have to separate them is why we feel so lost."

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It is the Seventies, in the American mid West, or mid East. Wherever. His is not a journey so much as a wandering, a life going sideways, searching for Michelle.

She never told him she was a junkie. He went to this farm in the country where people were drinking and having fun and she was there with this baldy guy. He had never seen a woman with so much sexual energy. It excited and frightened him.

Not long afterwards, they were in a hotel room, half naked, and she was heating the spoon, preparing for a fix. He didn't say anything.

He started using after that - heroin, pills, hallucinogenics. She came and went, high on expectation. He took jobs, hung in there for her, moving when needs arose. His ambitions were linked to hers and yet she had none, beyond a steady supply.

What makes Jesus' Son uniquely different from the neo-realistic traditions of waste and degradation movies is its ability to avoid cliché, as well as its skewed, end-of-the-line humour. River Phoenix in My Own Private Idaho was a tragic hero, unforgettable, like James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause. Billy Crudup eschews the romanticism associated with doomed youth and gives a performance of absolute conviction. Although dazed and undermotivated, his character reaches blindly towards a new beginning.

Ever since her memorable debut in Under The Skin, Samantha Morton has been compared to Emily Watson. As Michelle, she takes a step beyond. Janet McTeer proved in Tumbleweeds that an English actress can play American without fear, or favour. Morton reinforces this, typically unrestrained. Denis Leary, Holly Hunter and Dennis Hopper add to the sum of acting excellence with precise, dysfunctional cameo roles.

It was eight years ago that Kiwi director Alison Maclean's first feature, Crush, was selected for competition at Cannes. To wait this long for a follow up is unusual, but worth it, when the result has so much originality and soul.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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A junkie drifter's tale.
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Director: Alison Maclean

Writer: Elizabeth Cuthrell, David Urrutia, Oren Moverman, Denis Johnson

Starring: Billy Crudup, Samantha Morton, Denis Leary, Holly Hunter, Dennis Hopper, Will Patton

Year: 1999

Runtime: 109 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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