You're in for a grim ride with this psychological drama, the first feature film from director Tinge Krishnan. An gritty portrait of substance abuse and power manipulation, Junkhearts is assuredly not for the faint-hearted.
Frank (Marsan) is an ex-soldier, subsisting on a diet of whisky and cigarettes, haunted by memories of the disastrous mission that aborted his military career. He finds Lynette (Reid) sleeping rough outside his local off-license and takes her in, striving to give her not only shelter, but self-respect as well. But Lynette is not quite the down and out she professes to be, and when her boyfriend Danny (Sturridge) arrives on the scene, Frank spirals further and further down into humiliation and helplessness as the drug dealers take over. A million miles from this squalor, Christine (Garai) tries to juggle childcare with a cocaine habit, embroiled in an affair with a married man and teetering on the brink of financial ruin. The reconciliation of these two stories is delayed until the very end, and while many may guess at the connection in advance, the holding out to the 11th hour made the whole piece feel a little fractured.
The acting is superb all round, and showcases talent hitherto both underused and undiscovered. Marsan (Happy Go Lucky, Pierrepoint) finally gets a role he can really sink his teeth into, Sturridge (The Boat That Rocked) shows that he's got clout far beyond a Curtis romcom, and Candese Reid packs a real punch in her debut performance. As Garai is always an arresting presence onscreen, the long hiatus in her parallel story felt like a double waste - of talent as well as plot. To balance Frank's story with more of hers might have brought more coherence to the piece as a whole and more poignancy to its resolution. But this perhaps is also due to the unremittingly brutal nature of Frank's journey - manipulated and mocked, he is brought so low that before the end it was almost impossible to watch him endure yet another betrayal by the girl he sought to save. The redemptive end is heartfelt and comes as something of a relief - Krishnan does not leave her characters without their due comeuppance - but it in no way diminishes the harrowing experiences that got them there.
Vicious and visceral, Junkhearts is a powerful and affecting debut, and, if you can bear to watch it, is not to be missed.