Jesus' Son

Jesus' Son brings the stories of Denis Johnson to the screen, adapted from his own collection of stories by the same name. Johnson's stories chronicles his life as a drug addict in the 1970s and his eventual emergence back into mainstream society. Incidentally, Johnson also appears in the film as a man stabbed in the eye. The story unfolds exactly as if narrated by an addict. Plots meander with the mind, jumping quickly from one story to another, back and forth in time. In the middle of it all is FH (Billy Crudup, Waking the Dead, Princess Mononoke), short for "fuckhead." FH is a drug addict, and bad luck seems to follow him everywhere.

Crudup has the face and body of a screen hunk, but somehow still slips under the radar of the public. Instead of exploiting his looks, he opts for juicier roles, ones that require thought and acting ability. Crudup still holds a presence while looking "frumpy" here. Jesus' Son is another example of a good career move by Crudup. The same goes for his co-star, Samantha Morton (Sweet and Lowdown, This is the Sea). In her last film, Morton received an Academy Award nomination without uttering a word. Here, she plays Michelle, FH's girlfriend. Their relationship is anything but healthy. Michelle brings FH into the world of drugs, beginning his spiral downward. She is a free spirit and the main thing keeping her is drugs. On screen together, they are riveting. The same is true for the many stars with small roles including Denis Leary (The Thomas Crown Affair), Jack Black (High Fidelity), Holly Hunter (Timecode) and a surprisingly subdued Dennis Hopper (EDTV).

The adaptation by Elizabeth Cuthrell and David Urrutia takes a little patience, but pays off in the end. Remember that FH is telling the story, and he may not be too coherent in the short run, but the overall picture and his personal redemption slowly emerge. New Zealand director Alison Maclean (Crush) brings a sense of dark humor to the film. It is sometimes hard to distinguish when to laugh, and when to stare in shock. FH and Wayne (Leary) ripping the wiring out of a house for money is an example. Another good example is when Johnson arrives at the hospital, which is apparently staffed by complete incompetents. Jesus' Son may not be for everyone, but it is worth the time to watch and digest.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 48 minutes, Rated R for graphic drug use, strong language, sexuality, and some violent images.

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