As someone who’s never partaken in hard drugs, I really do love a good drug movie. These flicks, if done well, provide the viewer with a realistic idea of what it’s like to live such a drug-addled lifestyle without the associated risks. They capture the allure of drug life – the fun and sense of adventure – along with the pain and heartache that inevitably follow. Here are a few that get it perfectly right:
Spun: Jason Schwartzman and Brittany Murphy as 2 meth addicts riding the induced-insomnia high, Mickey Rourke as The Cook (so perfectly cast), John Leguizamo as the heroin-addicted dealer, his strung out girlfriend, Mena Suvari, and Patrick Fugit all make up one of the best ensemble casts I’ve seen in a while. Because the story focuses on Schwartzman and Murphy, both jacked up on speed the entire time, its pace gets you almost dizzy, providing a tiny taste of what it’s like to be on crystal meth without, you know, having to actually do it.
The Basketball Diaries: Leonardo DiCaprio portrays young Jim Carroll (of The Jim Carroll Band) during his downward spiral with heroin on the NYC streets. It’s rumored that this film, based on the 1978 autobiographical book of the same name, was years in the making because every director in Hollywood wanted to direct it and every up-and-coming actor wanted the lead role. I, for one, am grateful it eventually went to DiCaprio, as few young actors are capable of such a performance. Mark Wahlberg, Ernie Hudson, Juliette Lewis, Bruno Kirby, and Lorraine Bracco made up a wonderful supporting cast. The fact that it’s a true story, and, ultimately, a triumphant one, makes it even more powerful.
Requiem For A Dream: this flick based on the outstanding Hubert Selby, Jr. novel, which I recently read and loved, centers around four characters: a middle-aged widow (Ellen Burstyn) who becomes addicted to speed in an effort to lose weight, her son (Jared Leto) and his girlfriend (Jennifer Connelly) and their close friend (Marlon Wayans), all of whom become addicted to heroin while trying to make it rich as dealers. I’ve loved Jared Leto since My So-Called Life and his portrayal of Harry Goldfarb simply cemented it. Connelly and Wayans gave strong performances and Burstyn scored herself an Oscar nomination for her amazing role. The movie feels every bit as stream-of-consciousness as the narrative on which it’s based, giving the characters’ initial euphoria and eventual demise a depth that really makes you feel it.
Trainspotting: Mark Renton, a young man in Edinburgh, Scotland, tries to extract himself from the drug scene once and for all, but finds its allure hard to resist. Danny Boyle directed this gem (he’s directed other gems- 28 Days Later and Slumdog Millionaire, to name a couple), which is based on the Irvine Welsh novel. Ewan McGregor, looking like a baby at 24 years of age, ably carries the lead role. Some scenes are so graphic – the discovery of the starved corpse of the infant whose parents were too stoned to remember to feed her, Renton’s vivid, frightening hallucinations during his detox, during which he literally crawls into and out of a filthy toilet – you feel nearly sick just watching them. But you also feel Renton’s elation in the end as he walks off toward an uncertain, but promising future.