In light of the news surrounding the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, it seems a trip back in time is warranted. Hollywood is no stranger to drugs and misbehavior but it is still shocking to see an enormous talent suddenly extinguished. Moreover, it has produced its fair share of films on the topic. One of the best flicks I’ve seen on the subject matter was 1988’s Clean and Sober. Enough entertainment sites will be blowing up with tales of Hoffman; I thought we would take a different approach. So buckle up kids and keep your hands and feet in the DeLorean at all times. Today we journey back to the magical neon-colored years of the 1980’s. In this decade, Amadeus rocked us, Miss Daisy was catching a ride, and Judd Nelson was still relevant. However, in 1988 a flick slid in under everyone’s radar and totally changed the career of one Michael Keaton.
Before 1988, Mr. Mom was known for his comedy chops. He was a hilarious friend to the working girl in NightShift and just a delight to the dead in Beetlejuice. It wasn’t until Clean and Sober that we saw his dramatic skills. Keaton shines in this all-too-real depiction of a hustling addict trying to stay in a rehab program to avoid the police. The picture fades in on Keaton who awakes next to a girl suffering from an apparent overdose. Making a quick flush of the stash and an even quicker analysis of his situation, he heads to rehab.
In this sweaty, dank, toxin-filled den of thieves we meet a familiar face. Prior to his career as chauffeur to the elderly, Morgan Freeman was an unkempt social worker. Using his soothing, penguin alluring voice, Freemen explains the facts of life in a tough love, like or leave it fashion. The audience is taken on a ride not through back-alley drug deals or grime-covered bathrooms (although there were several uncomfortably close urine tests) but is instead shown the addict’s journey to recovery.
I shudder to think that gone is the art of showing a flick dedicated to the emotional ride of recovery. Using actors as tools against a backdrop of CGI or superficially contrived provocative scenes is becoming the norm. Sure, some would characterize Michael Keaton as an interesting choice for that role but he ended up blowing audiences away with his depth and soulful eyes. The nerds out there that made it passed the title of this article will know what a hardcore performance he gave in the 1989 Batman. In that film his most prominent feature were his expressive and deep eyes. He used that penetrating gaze to simultaneously frighten and gain empathy from the audience. There are few left who can achieve such a task.
Well dear reader, I hope you are scouring the internet for a chance to buy this bit of awesome. I prefer not to detail the plot of films in my articles but rather spend time discussing great performances in a role. Movies are magic for a reason: the writing may be great and lighting may be perfect but someone needs to breath life into a role. Actors like Keaton and the late, great Hoffman were such magicians.
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