Special (15)

Written and Directed by Hal Haberman and Jeremy Passmore
Screening at FACT from 22nd-24th December 2006

Reviewed by Adam Ford

Special is a parable for our medicated times, because the western world is in the grip of a great depression. It has recently been estimated that one in four people suffer from some kind of mental health problem in the UK each year. On Merseyside, the male suicide rate doubled in 2005. Governments aren't keen on looking deeply into the causes, because they know that while human genetics has not changed drastically since rates began climbing in the 1970s, society certainly has, and they like the changes. For them, it's better just to chuck pills at the problem, which is great for the profits of drug companies like Eli Lilly, Pfizer, or the British-based GlaxoSmithKline.

When we meet Les (Michael Rapaport), he is a traffic cop who feels unloved and unvalued by the world around him. He is given the chance to go on a drug trial for a major new anti-depressant being developed by the Special corporation. A comic book enthusiast, he is surprised and delighted to discover that the tablets give him special powers. When he thwarts an armed robbery at a convenience store by reading the gunman's mind, Les decides to hang up his uniform and ticket book, and become a superhero like in his comics.

Which is great, apart from the fact that obviously Les hasn't got any special powers, he can't fly, and his bloodied face is evidence that he certainly can't run through walls. So our delusional non-hero causes havoc in store after store, getting on a Crimewatch-style TV show and making the drug company whose logo he wears very worried indeed. To Les, this is just a conspiracy between the 'suits', the police, and maybe every single person he meets.

The writers handle the subject of mental distress with great sensitivity, and their sympathy is clearly with the victims of the 'mental health' system and the downtrodden people it feeds on. Even the laughs are sympathetic ones, because who hasn't believed they had super powers at one time or another?

Rapaport is sensationally believable in his first lead role, while the supporting cast of a puzzled doctor (Jack Kehler), drug company execs (Paul Blackthorne, Ian Bohen) and Les' comic store buddies (Josh Peck, Robert Baker).

Special is a subtly beautiful warning that chemical straitjackets may damage your health.

To read my interview with mental distress activist Amy Sanderson click here

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Comment left by gillyharbee on 1st July, 2007 at 16:53
i have just ordered the film from play.com. cant wait to see it. i already know i am going to love it

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