ADAPTED FROM a bestselling novel by Jacquelyn Mitchard, The Deep End of the Ocean takes as its starting point every parent's worst nightmare. Beth Cappadora (Michelle Pfeiffer) is attending a high-school reunion weekend with her three young children in tow; distracted for a couple of minutes, she returns to find her three-year-old son Ben gone. A panicked search turns up nothing. As the weeks turn into months, anguish slowly gives way to acceptance; Beth's marriage to Pat (Treat Williams) goes into the deep-freeze, while her relationship with her older son Vincent (Jonathan Jackson) grows ever more vexed.
The trauma of an infant's abduction recalls the haunting opening of Ian McEwan' s novel The Child in Time, both in its sudden drama and in the way a disappearance can be even more devastating than a bereavement - the bereaved, at least, have the certainty of loss. Yet where the child in McEwan's novel stays lost, The Deep End of the Ocean posits the intriguing scenario of the missing son's miraculous return nine years later, and so becomes a somewhat different film to the one we might have expected: now it's about the moral legitimacy of blood parents reclaiming a child from the people who actually raised him. There is, after all, the matter of the kid's feelings to consider.
An air of unlikeliness (not to mention the TV movie) hangs over the story, yet director Ulu Grosbard handles the material with such restraint and sensitivity that you feel bound to give it the benefit of the doubt. Pfeiffer is bravely unattractive as the mother, face drawn with sleepless nights and self-torture, manner brittle and forbidding; a portrait of maternal misery that will be hard to match.
Yet the film has an even better performance by Jonathan Jackson as the difficult older brother Vincent; the dark, watchful eyes and slightly metallic voice are powerfully reminiscent of the young Jack Nicholson, which is no bad thing. Jackson has a couple of scenes with his long-lost brother late in the movie so affecting I confess they brought a tear to my eye. Watch out for the name.
The far-fetched nature of the set-up may persuade you to think that it's based on a true story - it's not - yet in retrospect, this enhances rather than diminishes the human urgency of the playing; this is melodrama, for sure, but in its quiet, closely observed detail, the film keeps defying you not to believe it.
Written and directed by 25-year-old Justin Kerrigan, Human Traffic is a delirious communique from the Cardiff rave scene, and an unabashed ode to the pleasures of getting off your face. The story of a lost weekend, it centres upon a coterie of middle-class youths who banish the dreariness of their nine-to-five routine by largin' it in a Dionysian Friday night frenzy of booze'n'drugs. "Gonna get more spaced-out than Neil Armstrong, man," - and so it proves.
The cumulative effect of this Ecstasy bingeing is most keenly felt by Jip (John Simm, no stranger to hysteria as star of The Lakes), who's suffering a bad dose of impotence: "It's killin' me - softly," he confides to us. Some of his direct addresses to camera are very funny, as is the motormouth sales patter of vinyl pusher Koop (Shaun Parkes), hymning the merits of the latest "crackhead posse on Death Row".
Interspersed with the kinetic fury of the club beats - Fat Boy Slim, The Chemical Brothers and Underworld feature on the soundtrack - Kerrigan delivers a handful of set-pieces that strain a little too eagerly to conjure the mile-high hallucinations of chemical abuse. (Dennis Hopper found the same problem when he tried to convey the effects of an acid trip 30 years ago in Easy Rider.) As for the cameo by Howard Marks, discoursing on "spliff politics", is there a point to it?
Nevertheless you may, feel a cautious goodwill towards Human Traffic, which has the good sense not to become a morality tale. While there's a monitory sequence on the horrors of the E-hangover, it gets by on an irrepressible, try-anything spirit. That it made me feel about 120 years old was its only unpleasant side-effect.
The other yoof film this week, Crush Proof, is an altogether doomier affair. Paul Tickell's debut feature opens with the arresting urban-pastoral image of horses passing over a Dublin motorway, but the film's larger ambitions as an inner-city Western founder on portentous melodrama, incoherent editing, and some distinctly amateur-hour acting. I wish I could have warmed to the film's outlaw hero, Neal (Darren Healy), but the limited range of his interpersonal skills - fuck it or fight it - soon wears any sympathy away.
Vigo - Passion for Life belongs to the lamentable genre of biopic as rock video. While I wouldn't doubt the sincerity of Julien Temple's tribute to the French director Jean Vigo, his hopeful identification with the tragic, brilliant, misunderstood nature of Vigo's genius is simply absurd. James Frain gives an incredibly flat performance as the tubercular Jean, and Romane Bohringer tags along as Lydu, his muse and wife , neither of them looking as if they've ever met outside a film set. The script, co- written by Temple, Anne Devlin and Peter Ettedgui, would get a red-inked "See me" on the typescript of an ambitious school playwright. "There are times when failure is a mark of virtue," someone declares, which says more about Temple than Vigo.