Clean and Sober (1988)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Addiction Drama  |   Release Date - Aug 10, 1988 (USA)  |   Run Time - 124 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Karl Williams

This searing portrait of a substance abuser never flinches in examining the brutal realities of his condition, boasting fine performances from a trio of lead actors doing some of their career best work. Michael Keaton is superb as an unrepentant coke addict, embracing and brandishing with abandon the sardonic edges of his personality that he normally works so hard to blunt or channel into comic energy. In one of his early, pre-stardom roles, Morgan Freeman is simply awe-inspiring as the worldly counselor who's heard it all before; so deftly and skillfully does he bring his supporting role to life that one longs for a sequel focusing only on his character and back story. Freeman is reunited with his Street Smart (1987) co-star Kathy Baker, who delivers a haunting, wounded, and ultimately heartbreaking performance as a battered woman, a far cry from the accomplished professional roles she would later customarily inhabit. If there's a major flaw to Glenn Gordon Caron's directorial debut, it's a very wobbly first act that is somewhat overreaching and labored in its effort to depict the film's protagonist as having hit bottom. One can certainly do so without embezzling money or sleeping next to a corpse; but the grim workaday realities that powerfully inform the rest of the film escape it in its early sequences. Fortunately, Clean and Sober finds its narrative footing and ends up ranking among the better cinematic portrayals of addiction. If not for those regrettable first act problems, it would likely be considered a strong candidate for the same league occupied by The Lost Weekend (1945) and Days of Wine and Roses (1962).