“You can’t fight this battle for her.”
Scottish director Gillies MacKinnon has a gift when it comes to telling a story through a child’s point of view. In “Pure”, MacKinnon doesn’t sink into the lure of sentimentality, and neither does he make his ten-year old protagonist, Paul (Harry Eden), perfect. Set in East London, “Pure” portrays Paul’s bleak life with unflinching, and painful honesty. Paul lives with his widowed mother, Mel (Molly Parker) who’s a heroin addict, and a younger brother, Lee (Vinnie Hunter). Mel spends her days in a drug-induced stupor, and if she comes out of her haze, there’s sleazy supplier Lenny (David Wenham), her dead husband’s best friend, ready to ensure she never kicks her habit. Lenny not only supplies to the poverty-stricken neighbourhood of single mothers, but he also keeps the girls addicted while they earn money as prostitutes.
This is an ugly, desperate life with no hope of escape, and Paul’s face reflects his cares. Some shots show him as prematurely aged, and he carries the sort of knowledge that no ten-year-old should be exposed to. Paul is caught in a net–with his mother a heroin addict, and Lenny keeping her that way. Paul is fiercely protective of his mother, and while he realizes on some level, that he’s out of his depth, there’s no one he can turn to for help. His options for outside help are the police–and he views them as the enemy–or his grandparents. Unfortunately, his grandmother dislikes Mel and blames her for her son’s death.
Paul befriends a waitress named Louise (Keira Knightley), but fails to realize that she’s hopelessly trapped too. Paul, in the throes of a crush, sees her as perfect and removed from the taint of their surroundings. MacKinnon captures the craftiness of the addict to perfection, and the scenes of Paul and his mother are painful–yet vividly true to life. Incredibly fine acting from Molly Parker and Harry Eden make “Pure” a memorable film. If you enjoy “Pure” I also recommend another film by MacKinnon, “Small Faces”, and an American film that deals with the same theme “Fresh” directed by Boaz Yakin.