The lukewarm critical response to “Hellion” is utter bollocks. This is how indie dramas are meant to be done, rough and real and full of heartbreak. I’m not acting as a shyster voucher for “Hellion” because Jesse Freaking Pinkman‘s in it (although he is, and he’s great, guys,) but because it’s a legitimately good movie with fantastic performances all around (including from stand-out child actors Josh Wiggins and Deke Garner, who give two of the best juvenile portrayals I’ve seen in a long time.)
Despite its sensationalistic title (which puts you in mind of a “Rosemary’s Baby”-type chiller about malignant demon-spawn,) “Hellion” just feels very real. It’s an outstanding Southern-fried drama in the same league as “Winter’s Bone,” “Sling Blade,” and “Mud.” BMX-obsessed delinquent Jacob (Wiggins) is a damaged, resentful 13-year-old boy who’s leading his little brother Wes (Garner) into the same trouble that’s he’s perpetually been in since his mom died.
The boy’s exasperated father, Hollis (Paul,) is a well-meaning but ultimately ineffectual hard drinker, who hasn’t handled the death of his wife so well himself. When Wes gets taken by CPS and placed in the home of his aunt (Juliette Lewis,) Hollis realizes he has to clean his act up in order to get his child back, but his oldest is going up a rocky road that there won’t be any easy return from.
All the scenes, especially the ones involving Jacob and his group of Bravado-filled friends (who talk like real pre-teens and don’t look about thirty, as per most movie adolescents) and Jacob and his impressionable, sweet little brother seem very true to life. The Child Protective Services people and the cops are portrayed realistically and effectively (the police, particularly and due in no small part to the ‘Hands Up Don’t Shoot’ hooplah, are often depicted as the Antichrist in less fair-minded films and TV shows.
“Hellion” is very much an improvement upon the eponymous short on which it was based, which I truthfully only watched a few minutes of.) One drastic change made was that in the short the father was a stereotypical “I’ll make a man out of you yet boy- get me the belt!” uber-hick character (coincidently, he is not played by Aaron Paul in that version.) Hollis in the feature film is much less clichéd in that he seems like a gentle person and not a mean drunk despite being an alcoholic.
When he butts heads with Jacob he is just trying to reinforce discipline, not being abusive. And he refrains from physical discipline at many times when I might’ve hauled off and smacked the kid some. However, he is not a very effective parent in the long run. The filmmaker also does a good job portraying Aunt Pam (Lewis) as meddling without making it a black-and-white situation.
“Hellion”‘s script is both tough and compassionate, the way I want to write when I ‘grow up.’ Aaron Paul proves he can do more than being Heisenberg’s sidekick (which he’s good at, admittedly) and it’ll be an f’ing crime if the kid actors don’t get a lot more work in the years to come. Sod the critics on this one, watch this movie!