Lucas Hedges continues to impress with his acting ability, and he scores again with his starring role in “Ben is Back,” which elevates him in award competitions. In this film, written and directed by Lucas’s father, Peter Hedges, Lucas plays Ben Burns, 19, a young man who is a drug addict in deep trouble.
Ben has been in rehab to get badly needed help. He shows up unexpectedly at the home of his mother, stepfather and sister when the family is about to celebrate Christmas. They are surprised to see him. His sister Ivy Burns (Kathryn Newton) and his African-American stepfather, Neal Beeby (Courtney B. Vance), are skeptical based on past experience, but his mother, Holly, ever hopeful and played by Julia Roberts in another of her outstanding performances, is over the moon at the sight of him.
But it turns out that Ben is an all but hopeless case. There are debts to unsavory characters hanging over him and he still feels the need for a fix. In the hours since he has been home more hell has accumulated in his life. Danger lurks and Ben’s fiercely determined mom goes on a desperate mission to save him.
The film turns extremely tense, between the kidnapping of the family dog by one to whom Ben owes money, and urgency with which Ben is ready to succumb to temptation and resort to drugs again. Hedges is fascinating as he reflects various aspects of his tormented character, including his self-loathing and desire not to be trouble for his family.
Can Ben change and be saved? The question hovers over the story and draws us into the menacing situation, thanks largely to the convincing acting all around. The film is also a grim reminder of the widespread and often fatal drug addictions plaguing our country today. A Roadside Attractions release. Reviewed December 14, 2018.