Lisa Schwarzbaum
December 03, 2008 AT 05:00 AM EST

What Doesn't Kill You

type
Movie
Current Status
In Season
mpaa
R
runtime
100 minutes
Limited Release Date
12/12/08
performer
Mark Ruffalo, Ethan Hawke, Amanda Peet
director
Brian Goodman
distributor
Yari Film Group
author
Brian Goodman, Paul T. Murray, Donnie Wahlberg
genre
Mystery and Thriller, Drama

We gave it an B+

What Doesn’t Kill You, a tough, authentic street drama born, bred, and shot in the ? no-spin zone of working-class South Boston, doesn’t spell out the origin of the movie’s ? title. Nor does it complete the second ? half of Friedrich Nietzsche’s famous ? declaration to which it alludes — the part about making you stronger. There’s no need for moralizing when the actions and ? consequences are so clear and the story — of two local toughs at a critical juncture ? in their lives — is so strikingly free of ? romanticized Southie swagger.

It helps, surely, that Brian Goodman, an actor making a strong directorial debut, tells a version of his own life story here. And it’s evident that a serious commitment to the tenets of 12-step recovery programs keeps him modest and honest about what works for getting stronger (if you keep working it).

In a harmonious pairing of temperaments and talents for portraying flawed men who enforce their codes of ethics on a sliding scale, Ethan Hawke and Mark Ruffalo play Paulie and Brian, respectively — best friends from the Southie hood who fall under the sway of a local crime boss (played with ? authority by Goodman). Paulie, single and loving it, keeps his head clear for business. But Brian, a husband and father under pressure, burrows downward into drugs and drink. (Amanda Peet is terrific as Brian’s worn-down wife, sick of seeing her man ? disappear before her eyes.) Goodman the filmmaker eloquently conveys what ? Goodman the addict learned: that the climb back up and out is hell — and worth it. B+

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