La Voz de Michoacán Review, Mexico
October 2008 (translated)
With an extremely provoking subject and an elegant style to develop it, Duane Hopkins’ first feature film “Better Things” begins with an accidental death by OD. From that opening image, the film portrays what will be its main virtue: an incisive and realistic approach to its subject matter, combined with innovative composition and plot structure techniques.
The movie began showing in Morelia, the day before yesterday, in the final days of the 6th International Morelia Film Festival, which ended yesterday.
Although the cutting edge work offered by Hopkins is indeed important, the best part, given that this is his debut as a filmmaker, is that he proves that he is not one of those “dilettante” authors who flaunt a sophisticated style superceding the story they want to tell. On the contrary, far from any superficiality, form and content intertwine in his film when presenting us with a complex idea.
A confined world
As in his two previous short films, one of them the multiple award winner “Love Me or Leave Me” (2004), Hopkins places this story in a small British town and uses a cast made up of mostly non-professional actors.
From this starting point, and by skillfully weaving five stories, “Better Things” portrays the world of a group of teens trying to escape the boredom of everyday life through drugs (as in the case of lead character Liam McIlfatrick), trying to overcome agoraphobia (the case of Rachel McIntyre), or trying to escape unscathed from doomed love.
The film is characterized by a permanent feeling of intrigue and the use of minimalist dialogue. Meanwhile, the story of the youngsters runs parallel to a portrait of their grandparents’ generation (among them, a dying woman and an elderly couple undergoing a communication crisis.)
All these lives in a fragile balance, to the extent they always seem close to crumbling apart, give this film a quality that is virtually documental. Here is an experience that brings very fragile hopes to a life that appears to be mortally light. However, as markedly dark as the subject is, this is not the result, as it sparkles with its own strong, vibrant vitality, where two aspects stand out: Hopkins’ ability to shift pace through edition, and his treatment of illumination, which was amazingly difficult due to the exclusive use of natural light. These traits, along with the honest and direct look he dedicates to his characters and their circumstances, round off this successful debut, which fully justifies the three years it took the filmmaker to bring his script to the big screen, revealing his own security and talent.
An elaborated process
In May 2004, the filmmaker was selected for the first edition of the “MEDIA New Talent” award, granted to a long feature film script written by a screenwriter under 35, under the program “MEDIA Training”.Hopkins developed the script for “Better Things” through his film company, “Third Films”. After receiving the award, with the aid of professionals and the support of “MEDIA”, the filmmaker had the opportunity to defend and present his script in the Cannes Film Market, where he found partners to help him see his project come to reality. The results are in view: An honest and strong film which allows no concessions.