Ben Is Back

Jacob Richardson | 25/01/2018

A perfectly timed, deeply moving portrayal of addiction and love.


It’s Christmas Eve, and Ben Burns (Lucas Hedges) has returned home from an intensive sobriety program to his unsuspecting family. Ben’s wary mother Holly (Julia Roberts) welcomes her beloved son’s return, despite the rest of her family’s wariness given his history with violence and substance abuse. Holly soon learns that Ben is still very much in harm’s way, and in a riveting 24 hours that may change their lives forever, Holly must do everything in her power to avoid the family’s downfall.


Directed by Peter Hedges, Ben Is Back runs at a tight 103 minutes - and it is enthralling for the entire duration. The early, jarring feeling of not understanding why everyone is so afraid of Ben in the first act transitions into a heightened state of tension in the second as Ben and Holly go searching for a stolen family dog. This tension shifts, changes and increases in the third act when Ben and Holly are separated. And while the reasons behind your precarious position on the edge of your seat may change throughout the film, the dramatic involvement of the piece is a constant.


Lucas Hedges once again proves he is one of the most spectacular actors of his generation, and alongside the indomitable talent of Julia Roberts they present a powerhouse acting force that will have you thoroughly convinced at every second.


Roberts mothering persona is on full display here, and her ability to shift from understanding mother to hysterical woman in a police station searching for her son is commendable. We get the feeling that she truly, deeply cares about Ben, and as some of her history with Ben and Ben’s father is revealed, the nuances that infiltrate Roberts’ performance for the duration of the film become even more poignant.


Lucas Hedges brings a quiet vulnerability and subtle strength to Ben. It means we can relate to, and root for, this former drug addict as he plays with his step-brothers and step-sisters, or as he struggles with getting his mother to trust him. It also means we can believe it when he gets into a fist fight with an addict and throws him up against the wall. As the details of Ben’s sordid history come out in drips and drabs, without ever feeling over exposited, there is never anything that we feel doesn’t fit with Lucas Hedges portrayal of this character.


This riveting tale really focuses on these two leads, and their performances, coupled with an intricate and nuanced story that never overstays its welcome, will devastate you.



Ben Is Back is a riveting, engaging and heartbreaking tale that explores the relationship between mother and son.