Unrated - Cinema of the Extreme

ADDICTION is the second feature from writer/director team Joshua Nelson and James Tucker. Their first film together, SAVAGE ROSES (2001), received encouraging notices, from a number of independent film festivals in the USA, for its convincing portrayal of urban gang culture, violence, and non-exploitative depiction of a love affair between two Latino lesbians in the Bronx.

New York is the setting for ADDICTION too, only this time around the narrative centres on the life, and lives, surrounding a New York business executive, called Bobby (Frank Franconeri). The opening titles accompany a montage of scenes depicting, what appears to be, a blissful relationship between Bobby and Lisa (Mim Granahan), whom we see indulging in the daily rituals of married life. But no sooner have the credits rolled we become privy to their conversation and discover that Bobby suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder, which manifests itself in little outbursts of jealousy, nervousness, unusual eating habits, and a tendency to strive for perfection in both his home and working environment.

Late one night, whilst leaving the workplace, Bobby finds himself accosted by an armed mugger (Ky Swails), and in the harried struggle that ensues, accidentally stabs his assailant, killing him.

Bobby panics, returning to his office that now serves as both a haven to which he can escape from the numerous problems within his social life, and a refuge for the crime(s) he has committed. No-one else works late in the office; here he can avoid confrontation with his wife, family, police, and the intrusion of the ‘imperfections’, or ’losers’ of society, that live outside, on the streets of Manhattan.

With only his shadow as company, Bobby’s neurosis and obsessions grow. All those outside his ‘haven’ are seen as threats to his existence/freedom. With no-one to control, or burden with obsessive disorders and addictions that previously found an outlay via a healthy sex life, (Bobby now finds himself unable to engage in sexual relations with his wife whom he is now convinced is having an affair with her gay male friend, Raymond (Bill Lovern)), his addictive personality must now find a new outlet: murder.

He takes to the streets killing the homeless, the misfits of society who now become the focus of his existence or “work”. Meanwhile his lifestyle crumbles. Bobby can no longer function properly in his occupation, and proves ineffectual at recognising the drug problems of his younger cousin, Frankie (Joshua Nelson). His relationship with Lisa has also become tainted, despite her unwavering devotion.

Into this scenario, screenwriter Joshua Nelson deftly weaves several other story-threads concerning victims of compulsive and addictive behaviour. Ruthie (Lydia Fiore), due to her habitual swearing and poor handling of customers, is fired from her job as a restaurant waitress, and forced to turn tricks on sleazy back streets. Trish (Melissa Bacelar), a secretary for Bob’s company exploits her sexuality for all its worth in an attempt to climb the company ladder. Finally, we have Frankie and his girlfriend Jenny (Brenda Hattingh), whose heroin debts with local pusher Willy (Jaime Velez) get out of hand.

Director Tucker handles the editing chores well, utilising tracking shots of Manhattan’s skyline to serve as a transportation device to shift the narrative between characters and situations. The action invariably takes place at night, in darkened streets, alleyways, and on deserted parkland. It is in the “darkened heart” of night that Bobby confronts his deepest fears, and ultimately goes about his business of cleansing himself, and the city, of lowly demons.

In many ways Bobbie can be seen as a more fleshed out version of serial killer Reno, the paranoid obsessive from Abel Ferrara’s THE DRILLER KILLER (1979), who also takes to the street killing various down and outs. Neither killer can be considered evil but are portrayed as victims of their own compulsive, behaviour patterns. Bobbie, in his quest to become the perfect man at home and at work, and Reno, with his passion for producing the perfect canvas, become dark avenging knights of the city; antiheroes who prey on the weak whom they view as their own shadow-self.

Redemption and the battle for the soul are themes common to Ferrara, (MS. 45 and BAD LIEUTANANT), and his films are filled with misguided characters who commit horrendous crimes. However, where Ferrara shocks his viewers with explosive violence, the aggressive action in Tucker’s films appears stifled and fails to induce the same level of unease within its audience. Despite some cracking performances from a seasoned cast of stage actors, the victims fates are determined as soon as they set foot on the streets of Manhattan. When Bobby approaches each one we know exactly how, why, and when he will kill them. Hence, when the murders occur, they prove ineffective as audience scares.

Tucker’s work also recalls the work of yet another NYC filmmaker, Larry Fessenden, who also delights in the portrayal of obsessive destructives. Fessenden’s HABIT (1997) tells the tale of an alcoholic whose addiction brings him to the attention of a vampire. Like Fessenden, Tucker presents us with well-written characters whose incredible circumstances engage our sympathy, and this approach elevates ADDICTION from becoming yet another serial killer episode.

Ultimately, Joshua Nelson and James Tucker’s ADDICTION will serve as a an exemplary industry calling card. With a decent budget the filmmakers ought to go onto greater things. Whilst Ferrara’s crown as ’King of New York’, amongst maverick filmmakers, may still lie firmly in place, he had better beware because there are two new pretenders on the block.

Carl T. Ford

Directed by James Tucker

English language

USA / 2003 / 115 minutes.

16:9 Widescreen / Stereo 2.0



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