Michael Tully’s DV-shot zero-budgeter spans a day or a week in the life of a cocaine addict, the timeframe registering as vaguely for the viewer as it does for pic’s protagonist. More phenomenological than humanistic, “Cocaine Angel” drifts in the wake of a rudderless man zigzagging between past and fix-obsessed future. Pitch-perfect central perf (by scribe and co-producer Damian Lahey), total lack of dramatic artifice and surreally situational humor make for a minor-key vignette of unmistakable, if unstable, authenticity. Well-received at fests, “Angel” should fare well in niche venues.
Unlike those therapeutic slice-of-lifers like “Sherrybaby,” “Angel” describes a far more desultory existence. In the now-considerable gallery of cinematic drug-addict portraiture, Lahey’s Scott belongs to the “bemused acceptance” school that spawned the peripatetic protagonists of “Trash,” “Born to Win,” “Drugstore Cowboy,” “Gridlock’d” and “Jesus’ Son,” though on a decidedly minimalist scale.
Pic is so immersed in the everyday inversions and insanities of addiction that even potentially dire events take on a darkly comic absurdity. Hanging with assorted druggies with a tenuous hold on social niceties, Scott, who fortifies himself with pep talks in front of the bathroom mirror, strives to wrench his mind away from the all-important question of his next fix to simulate interest in his friends’ chatter.
Wandering through the heat-bleached byways of Jacksonville, Fla., Scott still displays the tattered remnants of an ordinary nine-to-fiver — an ex-wife, a little girl he sporadically visits, a rusting car, an apartment. But when he arrives at work, one foot bandaged due to an unremembered wound, his suited colleagues stare at him in priceless shock. Scott soon exits, unemployed.
The viewer is given no explanation — it’s unclear if this is the first time Scott has shown up to work in a long while or if this the first time he has shown up so obviously dysfunctional. Audience confusion echoes Scott’s own uncertain grasp of his immediate backstory.
Helmer Tully makes no attempt to reproduce Scott’s point of view in any literal sense — there are no slow-mo meltdowns or out-of-focus wooziness, the handheld camera only occasionally shaking to the addict’s jerky rhythms. Instead, Lahey’s shambling walk and nervous body language show his attempts to hold the world steady long enough to rejoin it. Supporting thesps, largely Jacksonville locals, add enormously to the genuineness of the pic’s feel.
Tech credits are suitably unpolished. Shawn Lewallen’s DV lensing moves efficiently from in-the-moment intimacy to quietly impartial observation, while Brian Jenkins’ score unobtrusively maintains pic’s remarkably even keel.