Richard T Kelly in Esquire

December 2008

Human spirit also shines through Better Things (out on 23 January), the first feature by writer-director Duane Hopkins, already pigeon-holed as a ‘realist’ portrait of rural England’s druggy anomic youth. True, Hopkins is studying heroin-abusing under grave Cotswolds skies, but he’s not responding to tabloid scare-stories. An avowed admirer of two of cinema’s sacred artists – France’s Robert Bresson and Liverpool’s Alan Clarke – Hopkins makes his every shot a real picture, connected lyrically to the shots around it. In casting, he has hired kids who’ve never acted, because he knows how tired most actors tricks are, and what his camera can uncover. (In particular, he evokes a stunning scene of thwarted sexual tenderness between a real-life couple whom he discovered, apparently, in Tesco.)

Hopkins is just as concerned with several deeply regretful elderly characters as he is with his unhappy adolescents. Substance addiction is seen to be but one form of living death, and Better Things evokes that ineffable sadness we all recognise when we look at the world and find it beautiful, yet having no need of our presence. Occasionally, Hopkins over-articulates: “This is a good life, as long as you don’t weaken,” a frail old woman advises her granddaughter. But the sentiment is honourable, and could serve as a credo for any film-maker setting out on the hard road toward illuminating our ordinary world.

Radio Times Review, 4/5 Stars,

January 2009

Writer/director Duane Hopkins's first feature is a compelling and highly credible insight into the deterioration of life in rural Britain. Making evocative use of his Cotswold locations, he creates a multi-stranded narrative that powerfully captures the genuine sense of isolation and torpor felt by the community, from young heroin addicts to a dying grandmother. This is only undermined by a failure to connect the juvenile and geriatric characters, and the guilt, envy, fear and despair they share. But for all the desolation of the landscape and the oppressiveness of the silences, there are moments of optimism here, as pulp romance-reading Rachel McIntyre conquers her agoraphobia, ailing Frank Bench confronts his wife over a long-held resentment, and Che Corr emerges from the shadow of self-destructive slacker Liam McIlfatrick to seize his best chance of a worthwhile future. Hopkins uses a predominantly non-professional cast and their performances match the sullen naturalism of Lol Crawley's cinematography and Douglas MacDougall's disconcerting sound design, making this a steelily impressive debut.

David Parkinson

Source | Radio Times