It has been a banner year for Texas-set indie films. From Nicolas Cage’s comeback in “Joe” and Michael C. Hall’s turn as a man pushed to his limits in the thriller “Cold in July” to the moving slice-of-life drama “This Is Where We Live” – not to mention Richard Linklater’s extraordinary “Boyhood,” which opens next month – the Lone Star State is the backdrop for some of 2014’s best-told cinematic stories.
Now we can add “Hellion” to the list.
Writer-director Kat Candler (“Jumping Off Bridges”), expanding upon a short film she made a few years ago, tells the story of Jacob (Josh Wiggins), a hell-raising 13-year-old kid in the Beaumont area who hangs out and causes trouble with his friends while dreaming of being a dirt-bike champ.
But things are falling apart at home. Mom is gone and hard-drinking dad Hollis (Aaron Paul) isn’t ready to be a single parent to Jacob and his 10-year-old brother, Wes (Deke Garner). In fact, Hollis and Jacob are so out of control that Wes is taken out of the home and sent to live with his aunt Pam (Juliette Lewis). Hollis’ fantasy of building a dream home for the entire family in beachside Galveston seems more out of reach than ever.
This serves as a wake-up call to both Hollis and Jacob that they need to get their lives together, and it’s this process that Candler handles with extraordinary grace and grit. Paul, in a film that offers a much better showcase for his talents than “Need for Speed,” inhabits Hollis with both troubling defiance and weary resignation. Wiggins makes an equally strong impression as a kid being pushed into the world of adulthood.
Though it may seem as if it’s heading in the direction of being a feel-good movie – Jacob thinks winning a big motocross race might set things right – “Hellion” doesn’t go down that predictable road. It is more authentic than that, and that is indeed something to feel good about.