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Friday, June 27, 2014

Movie review: Sad looks and quiet pauses in Hellion

Posted by on Fri, Jun 27, 2014 at 10:24 AM

click to enlarge Josh Wiggins as Jacob Wilson - COURTESY OF IFC FILMS
  • courtesy of IFC Films
  • Josh Wiggins as Jacob Wilson
Hellion
★★
Now playing


The difficulties of television actors who try to become movie stars fill countless pop-culture magazines and online clickbait lists. Viewers experience a degree of schadenfreude watching an actor from one of their favorite TV programs struggle to gain a foothold on the big screen, as if to say, “That’s what you get for leaving before the series finale and forcing Jimmy Smits upon us for the next two seasons.”

Aaron Paul is the latest in this long line of would-be matinee idols. While his compatriot from Breaking Bad, Bryan Cranston, has taken buzzed-about supporting roles in high-profile films such as Argo and Godzilla, the younger Paul has gone the more conventional route: star in a failed action franchise (Need for Speed) and then scramble back to the indie scene.

That may be a little harsh. Chances are good that Paul’s latest role in the indie drama Hellion was a done deal before he ever stood in front of a green screen for the racing flick. However, it shouldn’t be considered cynical to notice when a serious actor begins taking cash-grab roles, throwing in a quiet film to make his early fans happy.

In Hellion, Paul stars as Hollis, the single dad of two sons on the fast track to a criminal future. For much of the film, Paul maintains his trademark sad puppy-dog eyes as he handles the death of his wife by fogging himself with booze, leaving his children to fend for themselves.

Fending for themselves involves various destructive acts; the film begins with the kids demolishing a truck. Oldest son Jacob (newcomer Josh Wiggins) runs with a gang of neglected youngsters who fill their time with roughhousing, larceny and other typical small-town redneck behavior.

Younger brother Wes, also played by an acting neophyte (Deke Garner), looks up to Jacob and attempts to become initiated into the group of wild children. This results in tears, a visit from Child Protective Services and the younger child being placed in the care of his Aunt Pam (Juliette Lewis).

Hellion marks the feature film debut of writer-director Kat Candler, and it’s a promising beginning to a career as a storyteller. She introduces us to a life that many of us are unfamiliar with—and to two young actors to keep an eye on in the future. Wiggins and Garner steal the film from their older cast-mates, though Paul doesn't put up much defense against the theft. 

While I’m sure casting Paul as the star felt like a coup, his performance brings the film to a screeching halt whenever he appears. It would be lazy to say that he’s too young for the role, as there are many 34-year-olds out there with teenage children. But Paul suffers from the same genetic issue as Leo DiCaprio—he still appears to be in his late teens. No amount of fake mountain-man beard will disguise that.

A stronger directorial hand might have helped to produce a performance that didn’t lean so hard on sad looks and quiet pauses, but that is all Paul offers here.

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