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Sobering, Thought-Provoking Film
on December 14, 2001
One of the toughest things about drug and alcohol addiction is owning up to the fact of that addiction; being able to say, "I'm an addict." Because until that happens, the addiction will continue and the prospect of getting any help will lessen with each passing day. And the important thing is getting that help before it's too late, regardless of how it comes about. It's being able to recognize the opportunity and having the gumption to take advantage of it, which is what happens to a young man on the brink of disaster in "Clean and Sober," directed by Glenn Gordon Caron. Michael Keaton stars as Daryl Poynter, a high power real estate broker with a couple of problems: He's appropriated some $90,000 from an escrow account to play the stock market (which quickly took a nose-dive on him, leaving him about $52,000 short), but that's not even his biggest problem; his biggest problem is that he's a cocaine addict, as well as an alcoholic-- and he doesn't even know it. All he knows is that his life is in turmoil and he can't fathom why. And when a girl picks up at a mall ODs in his bed one morning, his life really begins to fall apart. He needs some time to sort things out and he needs to get away-- to hide for awhile-- and he comes up with a brilliant idea; he'll hide out in a rehab center where they guarantee anonymity and confidentiality.
He checks in, and it works. Nobody knows where he is, and the rules of the house prevent him from having any contact with the outside world. But Daryl-- a born hustler-- has hustled himself into a corner this time. Because he can't stay in if he doesn't play the game, which precipitates taking a long, hard look at himself. So for the first time in his life he gets caught up in his own scam; and it just may be his salvation. But before he can come back, he's going to have to hit rock bottom first, which he does-- in a pivotal scene involving a phone call to his mother. And it's only when he's faced with total collapse that he finally begins to look inward, and to take stock of how he measures up against the others he meets at the facility; when he starts to realize that he's not the only person on the planet.
Working from a tightly written screenplay by Tod Carroll, director Caron delivers a hard-hitting film that takes an uncompromising look at the effects of addiction, without relying or dwelling upon the physical aspects of the problem to illustrate the depths of despair to which it can lead. To be sure, Daryl looks strung out; but that aside, the story relentlessly chronicles how swiftly drugs and alcohol can wreck a life in all regards. It's a powerful statement, unflinchingly delivered in a concise and straightforward manner. Caron approaches the subject head-on, avoiding any melodramatics while keeping it grounded in reality, which enhances the impact of the drama as it plays out. And it clearly demonstrates how far-reaching the problem is, in that it touches so many others-- friends and family-- any and all who come into contact with Daryl. It gives a personal perspective on the issue that is even more pronounced, in fact, than that of Sandra Bullock's "28 Days" or the more recent "Blow," and is more emotionally involving as well, on the level of Steven Soderbergh's affecting drama, "Traffic." This is an Oscar-worthy film on any number of levels, but 1988 was the year of "Rain Man," and the Academy was clearly looking in another direction, leaving this film without even a nomination. And it's a shame.
As Daryl, Michael Keaton gives a performance that had Oscar written all over it; that he failed to receive even a nomination for his work here is a travesty, as this is without question the best he's ever done and on a par with any of the best of that year, including Hoffman's Oscar-winner. Whenever an actor can disappear within a character so completely-- as Keaton does here-- it speaks volumes about the performance and the believability of that character; and there's no sign of Keaton when Daryl is on screen. Keaton has a very definitive persona, but as you watch Daryl, there's not so much as a fleeting glimpse of Billy Blaze in "Night Shift," Carter Hayes in "Pacific Heights," Jack in "Mr. Mom," or even "Beetlejuice" or "Batman." With Daryl, Keaton has created a unique character, so real and presented with such intensity, that even a passing thought that this is an actor playing a role is impossible. And that's a performance that deserves much more than a passing nod of acknowledgement.
Also turning in an extremely affecting performance is Kathy Baker, as Charlie Standers, a fellow addict Daryl meets in rehab. Baker has an alluring quality that works perfectly for the blue-collar character of Charlie, whose vulnerability quickly gains the sympathy of the audience and helps to draw you into the story emotionally. There's an obvious softness beneath Charlie's rough-hewn exterior that is becoming, a down-to-earth aspect of the character that Baker conveys quite nicely. This is a very real person she puts up on the screen, and it's easy to believe that she operates a crane in a steel mill, because there's nothing in the way Charlie is presented that is false or pretentious. It's a solid performance, and one of the strengths of the film.
The supporting cast includes Morgan Freeman, who gives an understated, impressive performance as Craig, Daryl's counselor; Claudia Christian (Iris); M. Emmet Walsh (Richard), Tate Donovan (Donald), Brian Benben (Martin) and Henry Judd Baker (Xavier). A realistic examination of a problem that affects virtually everyone either directly or indirectly, "Clean and Sober" is a sobering film that, while at times is emotionally draining, is nevertheless a worthwhile and entirely satisfying experience.