Movie Review by Stephen Doyle
Starring: Molly Parker, David Wenham, Harry Eden, Gary Lewis, Keira Knightley
Director: Gillies MacKinnon
10 year-old Paul (Harry Eden), a fanatical West Ham fan growing up in London’s East End within sight of their stadium, has become the family rock after the untimely death of his father. His mother, Mel (Molly Parker), unable to cope with the loss, has become dependent on heroin. Paul, at the start of the film, is ignorant about the drug. He believes, as his mother has told him, that heroin is her medicine and is an attempt to cure her illness rather than the cause of it.
The shocking opening scene sees him innocently cooking up a hit for his mother one morning. However, from this starting point of complete ignorance he quickly progresses on a steep and painful learning curve as he discovers the true depravity of the drug. He develops a vehement hatred of heroin and becomes determined to get his mother to give it up as he witnesses the inevitable destruction it causes.
This is a worthy movie, which never descends into sensationalist melodrama, as can tend to happen when the same subject is handled by TV programmes and other films. Instead, this is a well researched and professionally made account of a sensitive issue.
The cast all turn in committed performances. Especially good are Molly Parker and Harry Eden as the mother and son, whose close but troubled bond forms the basis of the film. Eden has an extraordinarily difficult task for an inexperienced ten year-old. His performance, in places, shows an emotional range beyond his years, as when he lashes out at his mother when the heroin has made her do something particularly wicked. We see not only his range at this point, but also a heartbreaking fear – that his mother is turning from an angel into a monster before his eyes and that the transformation seems irreversible.
The Canadian actress, Molly Parker, has another demanding role. She portrays a difficult paradox well – how a genuinely doting mother can at the same time, while in the throes of heroin addiction, neglect her children so wickedly. She is convincing as both Dr Jeckyll and Mrs Hyde. She also deserves praise for the faultless London accent she adopts for the movie.
I would like to continue being positive about this movie as the noble intentions behind it are genuinely admirable. But the truth is that there is not much here that hasn’t been seen before. The depravity people descend to to get their next hit, the agony of going cold turkey, the shady and unscrupulous drug dealer, the near insurmountable task of giving up – every tired cliche is here.
There are further flaws, which admittedly, are only minor, but their cumulative effect is a detrimental one, making the film fall short of being the profound and moving experience that it could have been. For example, the incidental music, consisting of a simplistic schmaltzy ditty for the sentimental scenes and a loud drum and bass sample for action and tension scenes, lends an ill-advised flavour to the proceedings. It is a score that a made-for-TV film would be grateful for, but that you would expect Giles MacKinnon to ditch for something more sophisticated.
But PURE remains very watchable, despite the disturbing material. MacKinnon, the director of HIDEOUS KINKY and the little seen but much maligned SMALL FACES, brings a lot of imagination and flair to the direction. I expect one day this director will make some great films, but I doubt this will be considered one of them.