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JESUS' SON

SYNOPSIS:
A young man known only as F**khead (Billy Crudup) recounts some of his experiences while drifting across America, thieving and taking on various low-paying jobs to support his drug habit. These include working nights in a hospital emergency ward, tearing out the copper pipes of an abandoned house to sell the spare parts. But sooner or later, practically everything F**khead gets involved with goes wrong including his relationship with Michelle (Samantha Morton) who's also a junkie. Finally, editing a newsletter in an institution for elderly and disabled people, he discovers that compassion gives his life purpose.

"The source material (collection of short stories) might account for the episodic nature of the film, but this lends a suitable sense of edginess and dysfunction to a bravura piece of filmmaking which works - much of the time. A lot of the bizarre elements simply add to the tone, rather than to the characterisation or story, but that's probably as it should be in a film dealing with people who take trips inside their own heads. Billy Crudup is its greatest strength, providing the pivotal character/narrator whose journey of redemption is sort of sketched out here. Not quite linear yet not too far off it, the structure is at first a device, but soon morphs into the real pattern of FH's personality, as he doses himself into insenstivity and dislocation before discovering his compassionate side. (Hence the title, one gathers.) And while this may look a little corny on paper (especially in a short synopsis), the saving grace of this film is the energetic direction and exquisite attention to soundtrack detail. Unlike most mainstream films which use music as an emotion-track (like a laugh-track) Jesus' Son applies different criteria. Like the Green Berets song over a road kill scene with a rabbit . . . While films dealing with 'drug subculture' belong to a homogenous genre, Jesus' Son manages to retain some individuality, due to the combination of focused script writing and direction. The wry humour which abounds evolves smoothly as FH's journey develops, but by the end it is perhaps less controlled, giving way to a sitcom-esque playfullness. In the end, we are left with images: it's all tone and context, fragments of memory, snippets of songs - a pastiche of time and place, face and off-your-face."
Andrew L. Urban

"Nice to see a film set in 1973 that doesn't feel obliged to feature unsubtle jokes about Vietnam, Watergate, or '70s fashion. In fact, the period setting here seems almost beside the point, except for a sense, perhaps wholly nostalgic, that the '70s were a time when life as well as movies could be more open-ended, and when being a bum or a junkie wasn't just a sign of personal failure but automatically tuned you into history, let you live the adventure of turning on and dropping out. Jesus' Son does make some attempt to recapture (or simulate) the 'open-ended' form of the best US '70s films, with its jumps about in time, surreal tangents, and stray references (e.g. to F**khead's brother) that are never explained. A dumb question that's often asked about films like this: does it glamorise drug use? Well, yes, absolutely. Who could be more glamorous than this implausibly good-looking loser and his even prettier girlfriend, as they loll around tacky motel rooms, have lots of sex, watch daytime TV and shoot up? This idyll will especially captivate viewers who take lots of drugs themselves: Jesus' Son's best scenes have the same crash-and-burn euphoria that gained a deserved cult following for Terry Gilliam's Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas. (One black-humour episode set in a hospital emergency ward is the funniest thing I've seen in any new movie all year.) Less effective is the 'redemptive' journey that's finally conjured up for F**khead - who never becomes much more than a narrative convenience carrying us from scene to scene. The flip side of setting the film in the '70s is that the life it depicts can be safely sealed in the past: nothing very urgent seems to be going on, not much is
being risked."
Jake Wilson

"After kicking up the dust a few years ago at the Cannes, Sundance and Toronto film festivals with her little-seen debut effort, Crush, it is both surprising and sad to find that Kiwi Alison Maclean's second feature is so dull and lifeless that moviegoers should be given a thermos of coffee with their tickets to keep them awake. In its literary form, Denis Johnson's Jesus' Son was a collection of short stories which garnered such hysterical praise from the New York Times book reviewer in 1992 that one could be forgiven for thinking that Jesus Christ himself had written it. But as every player in the Hollywood food chain knows only too well, there is no guarantee whatsoever that a best-seller will automatically be a movie box-office winner. If anything, that goes double for a "collection of short stories" best-seller. Obviously none of this seemed to worry screenwriters Elizabeth Cuthrell, David Urrutia and Oren Moverman. After all, the book was in its sixth printing, so everyone from the Pope to the Amazon pygmies had probably read it, and, hey, there's that 70s retro feel about it, and it's about drugs, too, man! How can we lose? Boy, did they get a wrong number. Though the book allegedly paints him as a lost soul who must endure all manner of deprivation before he can re-focus his life and find himself again, on screen FH comes across as a gormless no-hoper who greets the mundaneness of his daily existence with the wide-eyed stare of a rabbit caught in headlights. As played by the bovine-faced Crudup, the analogy is entirely fitting. Apart from Samantha Morton's solid turn as the tragic Michelle and brief cameos from the likes of Dennis Hopper, Holly Hunter and Denis Leary, it all adds up to a mis-fire as desperate, dispiriting and aimless as the life FH is leading."
Leo Cameron

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 0
Unfavourable: 1
Mixed: 2

See Andrew L. Urban's interview with
ALISON MACLEAN

TRAILER

JESUS' SON (R)
(US)

CAST: Billy Crudup, Samantha Morton, Denis Leary, Jack Black, Will Patton, Greg Germann, Holly Hunter, Dennis Hopper

DIRECTOR: Alison Maclean

PRODUCERS: Lydia Dean Pilcher, Elizabeth Cuthrell, David Urrutia

SCRIPT: Elizabeth Cuthrell, David Urrutia, Oren Moverman, based on short stories by Denis Johnson

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Adam Kimmel

EDITOR: Geraldine Peroni, Stuart levy

MUSIC: Joe Henry

PRODUCTION DESIGN: David Doernburg

RUNNING TIME: 109 min

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: New Vision

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 31, 2000 (Sydney, Melb; other states October)

Awards & festivals:

Leoncino D'Oro Award, Venice Film Festival

Golden Lion, Venice Film Festival, Nominee

Best Actor, Billy Crudup, Paris Film Festival

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: 21st Century

VIDEO RELEASE: January 10, 2001







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