Dir: Gillies MacKinnon. UK. 2002. 96 mins
An exceptional performance from child actor Harry Eden provides the heart and soul of Pure, an unflinching portrait of the unbreakable bond between a drug-addicted mother and her loving son. Returning to territory familiar from his work on award-winning television projects like Needle and The Grass Arena, director Gillies MacKinnon has crafted a sincere, well-acted human interest drama that studiously avoids sentimentality. Rather too neat and tidy in its construction, the screenplay from newcomer Alison Hulme doesn't always justify the big screen ambitions of the production, which could leave it attracting critical admiration but struggling to achieve widespread theatrical exposure.
Refusing to sensationalise its subject matter, the film establishes its matter-of-fact tone in the opening sequence when 10-year-old Paul (Eden) surprises his mother Mel (Parker) with breakfast in bed. The breakfast consists of her cigarettes and a regular fix of heroin that she claims as 'medicine'. It is the boy's birthday, a fact that his mother has clearly forgotten. The older of her two sons, Paul is an appealing mixture of wide-eyed innocence and experience beyond his tender years. He regards himself as the man of the house since his father's death and will do everything in his power to keep the family together.
Faced with violent dealers, a persuasive policeman and an unreliable parent, Paul gradually comes to accept that his mother is a heroin addict but resolutely believe that she can reform. He stands guard during one of her failed attempts to go cold turkey. He defies her dealer/boyfriend Lenny (Wenham), collaborates with the police in his downfall and pleads the case for his mother before doubting grandparents and sceptical social workers. It is sometimes difficult to believe that one little boy can achieve so much and that he has such liberty to roam the streets and avoid school without a more significant intervention from the authorities.
It is entirely due to the laser-like intensity and conviction of Eden that such reservations are swept aside and the emotional core of the story is so readily embraced. Tough-faced and terrier-like, Eden comes across as a blend of James Cagney and the Artful Dodger, making Paul an unforgettable character. He has the audience completely on his side, rooting for his success against all the odds. He even brings the lightest and surest of touches to some acutely demanding scenes as Paul tries heroin to deepen his understanding of what his mother experiences and embarks on a friendship with waitress Louise (Knightley from Bend It Like Beckham) that threatens to become romantic. ' You ain't done this before, have you ',' she demands as they flirt with each other. 'I'm only 10,' he protests.
Filled with heartbreaking moments and gritty humour, Pure remains convincing and compelling throughout with the widescreen compositions of John De Borman enhancing the storytelling. Still, some of the secondary characters-policeman Gary Lewis and dealer David Wenham-lack complexity and the happy ever after ending is a little too simplistic and cosy after all that has gone before.
Prod co: Little Wing Films, Kudos Productions
Int'l sales: The Works
Prod: Howard Burch
Exec prods: Robert Bevan, Keith Hayley, Charlie Savill, Amanda Coombes, Amit Barooah, Stephen Garrett, Jane Featherstone
Scr: Alison Hume
Cinematography: John De Borman
Prod des: Jon Henson
Ed: Pia Di Ciaula
Music: Nitin Sawhney
Main cast: Molly Parker, David Wenham, Harry Eden, Geraldine McEwan, Kate Ashfield, Gary Lewis, Keira Knightley