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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Ben is Back (Blu-ray)
Ben is Back (Blu-ray)
Lionsgate Home Entertainment // R // March 5, 2019 // Region A
List Price: $24.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by William Harrison | posted April 3, 2019 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Recommended
E - M A I L
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P R I N T
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THE FILM:

As a criminal prosecutor, I see the effects of drug addiction in the courtroom daily. I have also witnessed friends and acquaintances fall victim to addiction and its collateral damage. Ben is Back stars Julia Roberts, in her only 2018 theatrical performance, as Holly Burns, mother of an addict, Ben, who is played by Lucas Hedges. The actor's father, Peter Hedges, directs, and the film does a fairly good job depicting the reflux-inducing uncertainty of living with an addict. Roberts and Hedges both are excellent, and Ben is Back is both dramatically satisfying and tense, thanks to late-game thriller elements. Those moments offset the earlier, more subtle drama but do not reverse its impact in this overall gripping film.

Holly returns home with daughter Ivy (Kathryn Newton) to find her son Ben standing in the driveway. She is elated but frightened. Ben has been in a sober living facility and was supposed to stay for several more months before returning home. The family goes inside and Holly questions Ben, who insists his sponsor encouraged him to make the Christmas visit and see her, Ivy, his stepbrother Liam (Jakari Fraser) and stepfather Neal (Courtney V. Vance). Holly sets strict rules, which boil down to Ben not being out of her sight for one second and promising to return to sober living after the holiday. The prodigal son appears to be sober and in good spirits, though Neal is worried when he discovers Ben has unexpectedly returned from the program he funded. Holly takes Ben shopping for dress clothes, and old, devious acquaintances discover he is back in town. That night after church, the family finds their house broken into and their dog missing. Knowing he is the cause of the crime, Ben runs out to find the dog, and Holly gives chase, fearing he will relapse or be hurt by old enemies.

There are a number of powerful, small scenes in the early minutes of Ben is Back. At the mall food court, Holly sits near an old man revealed to be Ben's former doctor. When the man, now suffering from dementia and physical ailments, is momentarily separated from his caretaker, Holly chastises him for getting her son hooked on opioid painkillers after a snowboarding accident. At church, Holly briefly comforts Beth (Rachel Bay Jones), the mother of a girl Ben dated and got hooked on drugs before she overdosed and died. When Holly looks for Ben later, she corners addict "Spider" (David Zaldivar), who is shocked when she calls him by his real name, Spencer, and asks him to recall his youth when the boys were friends. These play like the greatest hits of addiction collateral damage, but with Roberts at the helm, they are subtle and affecting. Ben pissed off a lot of people thanks to his heroin addiction, and owes drug dealer Clayton (Michael Esper) a great deal of money. Ben suspects Clayton has the dog, and attempts to run one more mule operation to settle his debts.

Its early scenes are quieter and arguably more effective, and the film devolves somewhat into a more straightforward thriller in the final act. With the skeptical sister and angry stepfather on the back burner, Holly actually joins Ben on his quest. She soon is exposed to some ugly truths and realizes how badly Ben behaved while on drugs. After one stop at the home of an older male, Holly vomits out of her car door when she realizes Ben had a sexual relationship with the man - a teacher - to score drugs. Ben is Back does not shy away from the ugly truths of drug addiction, and it does a reasonably good job showing the tentacles of despair that extend to families, friends and acquaintances of someone suffering from addiction. The film's quick ending could be stronger, but the moments that come before are what stick in the mind. Roberts and Hedges both are excellent, and Ben is Back is a sobering, entertaining film.

THE BLU-RAY:

PICTURE:

The 2.39:1/1080p/AVC-encoded image comes from a digital source and offers abundant fine-object detail and texture. With a teal-blue winter color scheme, the image offers crisp edges, carefully saturated colors and appropriate highlights. Blacks levels are strong, but there are a few moments of murky shadow detail during nighttime scenes and a bit of digital noise therein.

SOUND:

The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack competently presents the dialogue-heavy film, and offers moderate ambiance, crystal clear dialogue and balanced elements. I noticed no issues with element crowding or distortion. English SDH subtitles are included.

PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:

This two-disc set includes a Blu-ray, a DVD copy and an HD digital copy. The discs are packed in an eco-case that is wrapped in a slipcover. Extras include an informative Commentary by Director Peter Hedges, an Image Gallery (2:14/HD) and Trailers (3:40/HD).

FINAL THOUGHTS:

Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges are excellent as a mother and son dealing with the collateral damage surrounding drug addiction. The film veers away from early, subtler looks at addiction and becomes a chase thriller, but the performances and content combined leave a film that comes Recommended.

William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.

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