Movie Review: Shooting Heroin
By Matthew Huntley
April 27, 2020
“Shooting Heroin” has the skeleton of a topical, moving drama but not the body. Writer-director Spencer T. Folmar’s screenplay has many good qualities, including raw characters, pointed dialogue, and settings that make the material palpable and convincing. The cast and shooting locations are also up to the challenge of bringing America’s all too important and urgent opioid crisis to the forefront in hopes of convincing viewers it’s going to take everyone from the highest federal position to the lowest local authority to address the epidemic.
So, given all its promising resources, why do we fail to take the film seriously? The problem lies with the execution and, I’m sorry to say, Folmar’s overstated direction. This is a film that would have benefitted greatly from subtlety and a slower, quieter pace. At a brisk 90 minutes, “Shooting Heroin” moves along as if it’s in a rush - to quickly say what it wants to say, push its agenda hard and fast into our face, and then leave it up to us do something useful with what we’ve been told. However, Folmar doesn’t seem to get that, in regard to storytelling, patience and restraint often go further than aggression and ostentation.
Not that I deny the film’s good intentions. Its mission is clear: to bring to light the harmful effects of opioids, and not just those of a mortal and physical nature, but also the social and familial. When someone spirals down the rabbit hole of opioid addiction, they don’t just abuse their own mind and body but also the society in which they live and the relationships they’ve formed and upheld their entire lives. Illicit drug use of any kind can spin a dangerous web that consumes so many more than just the users.
This idea isn’t new of course, but just because a topic isn’t new doesn’t mean it’s no longer relevant, and sadly, we’ve probably reached a point where opioid abuse will always be relevant, so long as these drugs are easily available. With this in mind, what Folmar sets out do do with “Shooting Heroin” is offer a way to deal with the issue now, which could could lead to a long-term solution later. It’s just a shame he can’t convey his message in a more meaningful and believable way.
In the small, close-knit community of Whispering Pines, a handful of individuals experience the tragic ramifications of opioids first-hand and take it upon themselves to make sure they don’t happen again. Oddly enough, it’s the opioid epidemic that provides these characters focus and a chance to undertake something useful. Whispering Pines is one of those poor, nondescript American towns that have sadly become a common target for opioid addiction. In places like this, the sky is perpetually gray and there’s a constant, biting chill in the air, and the lack of jobs and substantial opportunities have left many residents feeling lonely and desperate. In fact, the movie opens with a quote from Sophocles: “Despair often breeds disease,” which obviously suggests the root of the opioid problem goes beyond mere drug dealers and users and is attributable to many factors, including the economy and social inequality.
But “Shooting Heroin” isn’t interested in addressing the deeper roots of the opioid problem; it focuses only on what can potentially be done now to plug it, which is stopping drug dealers from selling and distributing narcotics in the first place.
The story follows three wounded people. Adam (Alan Powell) is a young, twice-divorced veteran and father who’s looking to rebuild his life after returning from his third tour. His plans to make something of himself come to a grinding halt, however, after his sister Cheyenne (Daniella Mason), a recovering addict, gets into a car accident and her self-administered morphine at the hospital leads her to fall off the wagon. With family being family, Adam suddenly finds himself cleaning up after his sister while trying to make amends with his insufferable, chain-smoking mother (Cathy Moriarty).
Hazel (Sherilyn Fenn), a middle-aged woman, has suddenly became childless after her two teenage sons both OD’d “from the same needle” within 12 hours of each other. Now she speaks to students at the local school and pleads with them to think about their mothers should they ever consider using drugs. She’s so distraught she can barely speak.
Edward (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs), a churchgoing man who is neither gun nor knife shy, is just plain fed up and angry. He confronts Jerry, the town sheriff (Garry Pastore), to “get the pushers” and asks Reverend John (Nicholas Turturro) in the middle of communion if it’s right to take the law into your own hands if it means correcting sin. But Reverend John tells him this isn’t what the Bible teaches, while Officer Jerry says his hands are tied. Funds are low and resources are limited.
That’s when Adam, Hazel and Edward ask Jerry to deputize them and form their own drug task force. They make it their duty to inspect cars coming off the exits into their town; put up signs that warn passersby not to do drugs…or else; and even chase dealers on ATVs in the woods. They also accost a local doctor and pharmacist who seem too willing to write and fill prescriptions for highly addictive pills. “I’m just doing my job,” they say. At one point, Adam threatens the doctor by basically telling him, “This is last fking prescription you’re ever going to write. You got that?”
Unfortunately, it’s lines and situations like these that prevent “Shooting Heroin” from becoming a respectable drama and/or social commentary. Instead, it settles down as an aggressive, over-the-top and, in some instances, obnoxiously self-righteous message movie.
To be fair, as it proceeds, we ponder what it would be like if the locals in small towns really did take it upon themselves to enforce the law and finally say, “Enough is enough” (in regard to opioid peddling at least). But the way “Shooting Heroin” depicts this scenario lacks credibility and its overall tone is that of a TV movie-of-the-week, only with more violence and cursing. Folmar, a Christian filmmaker, has said “Shooting Heroin” is meant to be taken as a “Hard Faith” film, which is to say it’s not so much theologically or Gospel-minded as it is gritty and realistic in hopes of reaching beyond a Christian audience.
Nevertheless, as is usual for many Christian films, be they light or hard faith, “Shooting Heroin” gets so pushy with its views that our instinct is to push back, or simply laugh at it or ignore it altogether.
For the record, I do believe “Shooting Heroin” has its heart in the right place and that Folmar meant it when he said he made the movie to “hopefully make the world a better place and bring light to a dark situation.” But I don’t think he was the best director to realize his screenplay. Perhaps if he had handed the reigns off to a more experienced storyteller, someone who might have interpreted it with greater subtlety and avoided dramatic grandstanding, the movie could have amounted to something that really resonated instead of something merely forgettable.