'Jesus' Son' Divinely Done
By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 7, 2000
Q: What kind of actor does it take to pull off a line like, "Ah, this sudden
crispness, this beautiful chill, the tang of everything stabbing me!" and not make
it sound as if he's reading from the Rod McKuen songbook?
Billy Crudup leads a superb cast in "Jesus' Son."
A: A very, very brave one.
Billy Crudup is such an actor. As the hero of Alison Maclean's "Jesus' Son," a
lyrical hallucination of a film about a junkie's voyage from damnation to
self-discovery, Crudup gives a performance that is by turns scary, heartbreaking,
grotesque and funny as hell. In Elizabeth Cuthrell, David Urrutia and Oren
Moverman's poetic adaptation of Denis Johnson's acclaimed collection of
semi-autobiographical short stories, Crudup stars as a man known only by a vulgar
nickname we'll euphemistically call "Frickhead."
As the tale begins, FH is a sweet-natured twentysomething slacker whose worst
vices are cigarettes and beer. Actually, that's not true when "Jesus' Son" starts,
FH, who is also the movie's unreliable narrator, has already fallen off the wagon,
but just a few minutes into his winding oral history he stops, backtracks, then
starts again (several times in fact) before finding his rhythm.
His head turned by a pretty heroin addict named Michelle (Samantha Morton), it
doesn't take FH long to realize he likes the high, too. Soon, the two are shacking and shooting up in a series of grimy fleabags. They fight, they make up, she saves him from an overdose and gets pregnant. Through it all, FH drifts past a succession of eccentric but totally believable social outcasts: Wayne (Denis Leary), a divorced dope fiend and alcoholic who harvests his own home for scrap metal; Georgie (Jack Black), a pill-popping hospital orderly; Bill (Dennis Hopper), a recovering drunk
with two rather gruesome bullet holes in his head; and Mira (Holly Hunter), a
partially paralyzed woman he meets at an AA meeting.
Filled with beautiful imagery bordering on the surreal a naked woman gliding
through the sky on some sort of parasail, a fully conscious man with a hunting
knife sticking out of his eye socket, a litter of premature rabbits delivered in
the middle of a highway, a Mennonite couple in the Arizona desert "Jesus' Son" is
neither a preachy tale of rehab nor a harrowing drug drama, although its voice is
at times inflected with elements of each.
More than anything, "Jesus' Son" (which takes its name from a line in Lou Reed's
song, "Heroin") is a story of spiritual awakening and the often serendipitous, if not
downright blessed, way many of us arrive at a sense of belonging. Guided by
director Maclean's taste for the wry, her eye for finding beauty in squalor and her
allergic reaction to all things sentimental and with its rock-solid cast of actor's
actors "Jesus' Son" manages to carry off the corniest thing imaginable: turning
a cynic into a believer.
JESUS' SON (R, 110 minutes) Contains obscenity, sex, nudity, drug use and surreal physical injury.