dir Jonas Pate
scr Thomas Moffett
prd Dana Brunetti, Braxton Pope, Kevin Spacey
with Kevin Spacey, Mark Webber, Keke Palmer, Dallas Roberts, Robin Williams, Saffron Burrows, Jack Huston, Pell James, Jesse Plemons, Laura Ramsey, Robert Loggia, Gore Vidal
release US 24.Jul.09, UK 4.Jun.10
09/US 1h44
I'm listening: Spacey

webber roberts williams
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Shrink Blackly funny but never as vicious as it clearly wants to be, this rather nihilistic look at modern society keeps us hooked with desperate and lost characters who all have a whiff of soulful humanity.

Henry Carter (Spacey) is a celebrity psychiatrist unable to rebound after a terrible personal tragedy. Anaesthetising himself with alcohol and drugs, he wonders if the fact that he can't help himself indicates that he's useless to his patients too. He's also annoyed that his family keeps trying to help him, from an intervention to a pro bono assignment to treat a troubled teen (Palmer), who has had a similar experience. The fact is that he just has patients, not friends, and the only person he can talk to is his dealer (Plemons).

Even if the way the plot strands weave together feels a little contrived, this beautifully shot film has a gripping emotional core, with a raw, earthy tone that captures the agony and confusion of grief. And Spacey is terrific as a man disappearing into a hash-fuelled fog. Henry's patients are Hollywood movers and shakers, and they're engagingly well-performed, from Roberts' manic agent to a variety of famous but fragile actors (Huston, Burrows and Williams).

For contrast we have a sweetly offbeat rom-com subplot involving Henry's "godbrother" (Webber) and the agent's pregnant assistant (James). The wide variety of characters and side-stories weave together to paint a fascinating but heavy-handed portrait of Western society in which people can't quite put a finger on their purpose in life. The mindless pursuit of drugs, sex and money are all vividly portrayed. And the most telling aspect is the sense that the doctor needs others to help heal him.

These are all people at the end of their ropes, and yet no one can quite bring him or herself to admit it, so they carry on day to day, as if what they're doing has some meaning. Fortunately, the actors and filmmakers invest this bleak premise with some honest emotion, real connection and jagged wit. And these moments of compassion are what keep us (and the characters) from feeling suicidal about it all.

cert 15 themes, strong language, drugs, violence 8.May.10

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