HBO's Addiction project is an ambitious, multimedia attempt to combat drug addiction and highlight breakthroughs in the treatment of addicts, and it brings together several A-list documentarians for the cause. In that respect, it's the documentary version of the notorious Reagan/Bush-era special Cartoon All-Stars To The Rescue, only with D.A. Pennebaker and Barbara Kopple instead of Slimer and Garfield, and considerably fewer jokes about the overconsumption of lasagna. The project aims to educate and potentially save lives rather than entertain. That's probably for the best, since its endless avalanche of information and statistics is so dryly presented that it makes even a glorified PowerPoint presentation like An Inconvenient Truth look like the long-lost third feature in Grindhouse by comparison.
Addiction's centerpiece is a 90-minute documentary that compiles segments by such luminaries as Pennebaker, Kopple, Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky, Chris Hegedus, Eugene Jarecki, and Albert Maysles, complemented by 13 supplementary features that include short films and interviews with leading experts in treating drug addiction. Addiction sets out to remove the stigma surrounding drug and alcohol addiction by viewing it as a brain-centered medical condition to be treated with medication and therapy, rather than prayer or willpower. In segment after segment, the heartrending drama of addiction is written indelibly in the lined faces of subjects who stare down demons from their past as they head into uncertain, relapse-prone futures.
The documentarian dream team certainly helped attract attention to the project, but the medicinal nature of Addiction's simultaneously sobering and hopeful segments tends to negate the filmmakers' individual merits rather than highlight them. A notable exception can be found in "Steamfitter's Local Union 638," a segment about a self-insured union wrestling with widespread alcoholism among its members, which Kopple transforms into a Valentine to organized labor. (Is there anything more heartbreaking than a workingman's tears?) Addiction favors education over entertainment, but in a heartbreaking segment where a mother who's lost her daughter to a heroin overdose speaks movingly of other parents burying their children, the human cost of addiction becomes achingly clear.
Key features: Thirteen supplementary interviews and short films are supported by links to websites with further information.