UK, 2002. Rated R. 96 minutes.

Cast: Harry Eden, Molly Parker, Kiera Knightley, David Wenham, Geraldine McEwan, Kate Ashfield, Gary Lewis, Karl Johnson, Nitin Ganatra, Marsha Thomason
Writer: Alison Hume
Original Music: Nitin Sawhney
Cinematography: John de Borman
Producer: Howard Burch
Director: Gillies MacKinnon


Grade: B- Review by Carlo Cavagna

Pure is another entry in a peculiarly British/Irish film genre—the genre of movies about urchins (usually with incomprehensible accents that US audiences are somehow expected to understand) fighting to hold their impoverished families together. Usually the parents are alcoholics, or otherwise struggling with some demon or other. Usually the child is the wisest person in the film. Usually I can't understand a damn thing he or anyone else says. Why doesn't someone subtitle these things?

This particular film has been sitting on the shelf since 2002, waiting for supporting player Kiera Knightley to become a mega star. Now that she's obliged, Pure gets a U.S. release and you get Knightley's mug all over the movie poster even though her role in the film is not large.

The film opens tenderly, with 10-year Paul (Harry Eden) thoughtfully preparing his ill mother's daily injection and bringing it to her in bed. Except the medicine isn't medicine; it's “gear.” What is gear? From “A Dictionary of English Slang”: Gear. Noun. Illicit drugs. Specifically, smack. The big H. Heroin. So much for the tender moment. Having your child prepare your daily fix is not something you'll find in Dr. Spock. In fairness, the mother Mel (Molly Parker) does appear disturbed by Paul's initiative. On the other hand, she flakes on Paul's birthday. Mel is a junkie and everyone knows it—everyone except Paul.

Kiera Knightley and Harry Eden
Louise (Kiera Knightley) and Paul (Harry Eden) go for a bumper car ride in Pure.

A father figure is present in the form of Lenny (David Wenham), the ubiquitous local drug dealer who appears to be getting more sex from his clients than money. At the local diner, teenaged Louise (Kiera Knightley) provides another positive influence. In consideration of her second pregnancy, she has cut back on her drug habit—she only smokes the heroin. Louise gives Paul four cigarettes for his birthday.

When a close friend of Mel's overdoses and Paul finds out what a “junkie” is, Paul's happy family arrangement crumbles. Paul confronts his Mum, and Mum promises to give it up. She barricades herself in her room, making Paul swear not to give her a fix no matter how much she begs for it. This is not a good plan. Mel exits the picture temporarily, leaving Paul mostly on his own or spending a lot of time with Louise, who at least shows Paul a good time with bowling and bumper cars.

Where Pure deviates from more typical coming-of-age stories is that it delves where shier films do not. When Paul decides he wants to know how Mum feels, the film follows through. Director Gillies MacKinnon (Hideous Kinky) gives us the shocking sight of a ten-year-old on a heroin high. Eden nails this scene, despite his acting inexperience.

MacKinnon's directorial choices really help here. Rather than exhorting his actors to histrionics, as many addiction dramas will do, he delivers a rather quiet film that tells its story more through its visual elements. The scenes of Paul's escapades with Louise possess a giddy quality that convey the essence of Paul's experience more than his lines or his laughter do.

Not that the acting isn't outstanding all around. It is, and in addition Pure offers a fascinating contrast between acting talent and star quality. Molly Parker is an outstanding actor with a host of perfect accents at her command, able to credibly portray a wide range of characters from radically different walks of life. She has starred in Wonderland (1999), The Center of the World, Waking the Dead, Sunshine, Marion Bridge, and of course, HBO's “Deadwood.” But despite talent and good looks, Parker will never be a star.

Kiera Knightley doesn't have half of Parker's ability. She's overwhelmed in most period roles (boding ill for the new Pride and Prejudice, whose release looms later this year). Her thin frame cut a ridiculous figure as a Celtic warrior maiden in King Arthur. However, she has spunk and grit, as well as a pretty face, which makes up for a lot of shortcomings in this business. She's got undeniable screen presence, too (at least when she's not sharing the screen with Johnny Depp), and shines brightly in Pure. Her performance is punctuated by Louise's comments about the kicking “Baby Beckham” in her stomach, which remind us of Knightley's breakout role. For Knightley fans, Pure will be well worth seeing for this early performance. And for Parker fans, if there any out there, Pure will be well worth seeing, too.

Review © July 2005 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 2005 Indican Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

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