In their first cinematic collaboration since Nowhere Boy, director Sam Taylor-Johnson and her actor-husband Aaron Taylor-Johnson join forces for this straight-up adaptation of James Frey’s memoir of addiction and rehab. Published in 2003, Frey’s book became a literary scandal when it was revealed that some elements were considerably embellished, but the Taylor-Johnsons, who co-script, take his words as gospel.
Whatever the truth of Frey’s recollections, there can be no doubting the power of what the Taylor-Johnsons put on screen. This is a full-blooded portrayal, beginning with Frey at rock bottom as he collapses after a crack-fuelled party session. Bundled on a plane by a doctor – destination: a Minnesota rehab facility – he wakes up mid-air, immediately stealing a whisky miniature from the hostess trolley, downing it furiously.
Taken to the clinic by his concerned brother (Charlie Hunnam), Frey has no wish to recover and hates the facility’s 12-step programme, showing contempt for others there, including the seen-it-all counsellor (Juliette Lewis). His anti-authoritarian streak leads him to another troubled soul, former teen prostitute Lilly (Odessa Young), though their secret assignations inevitably lead to more pain.
More volatile than other recent addiction tales (Beautiful Boy, Ben Is Back), this film has a raw energy to it, putting Taylor-Johnson (the director) squarely back on more interesting terrain than her 2015 bonk-buster Fifty Shades Of Grey. Featuring fine work from Billy Bob Thornton as a flamboyant addict prone to dispensing pearls of wisdom, and an electric ATJ at his most grizzled, this is the sort of film where you just can’t say no.