MPI // 1993 // 120 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Lacey Worrell (Retired) // July 19th, 2005
It takes a special love to save a drug addict. Sometimes you have to strip away everything before you find the truth...
Mary Ann (Meredith Baxter, Family Ties) has everyone fooled. Outwardly she is a competent, compassionate nurse in a methadone clinic, as well as a loving single mother. She commands respect both on and off the job. When she becomes involved with Guy (Steven Lang, Gods and Generals), who is also one of her patients, friends and family become concerned as Mary Ann's life quickly begins to unravel. Mary Ann, who has been hiding an addiction to various drugs she steals from the clinic, begins using heroin with Guy shortly after they are married. The most tragic effects are on Mary Ann's young daughter (Chelsea Hertford, Major Dad), who takes to drawing fake track marks on her forearms so that she can imitate her mother and new stepfather.
Through flashbacks, viewers also learn about Mary Ann's unhappy childhood, a potential cause of her addiction. Things come full circle when Mary Ann and Guy's child is born addicted to heroin, Mary Ann is no longer able to hide her addiction from her colleagues, and Guy decides to get clean. Once clearheaded, he learns some of Mary Ann's old secrets and becomes enraged. This is where Mary Ann faces the difficult decision to continue life as an addict or enter treatment.
Darkness Before Dawn is based on a true story, and has been a popular staple on the Lifetime network for years. The acting and storyline are a cut above the usual melodrama that often accompanies telepics that address such a grave subject matter. As a psychologist, I can attest that what makes this movie different is the fact that it addresses all aspects of Mary Ann's addiction, from her troubled, abusive childhood, through her difficulty in coping with the stresses in her adult life, to her eventual recovery. There are several moments, especially involving Mary Ann's daughter and newborn baby, that will make anyone cringe, as the film details the effect addiction has on the entire family, not just on the addict. That said, what sets this film above the rest is the underlying theme that regardless of how sad Mary Ann's childhood was, it does not abdicate her adult responsibilities to herself, her husband, and her children. Viewers may feel some compassion for Mary Ann, but the story creates a sense of urgency as well, for it is clear that Mary Ann will only have so many chances before her addiction destroys not only her life, but the lives of those close to her as well.
I don't know what it is about heroin addiction movies, but for some reason I just can't look away, even though the thought of someone sticking a needle in his or her arm on purpose scares the heck out of me. And it is a topic films have dealt with very well, from Angelina Jolie's stellar performance in Gia, about a troubled supermodel who contracts HIV from her incessant drug use, to the riveting Charles S. Dutton-directed miniseries The Corner, one of the only projects in recent memory to tell a story almost exclusively from the point of view of the addicts.
Darkness Before Dawn treats the topic with respect, yet it does not shy away from the darker details of addiction. Over the years, Meredith Baxter (and her fellow TV mom Judith Light (Who's the Boss)) has become a fixture in made for television movies; this one is quite possibly her best. She is not afraid to play a woman who comes across as selfish, almost up to the final scenes of the film, because of the way her behavior affects those around her.
Be sure to check out the included background information on the true story behind the film, as it is always interesting to learn about the real people who inspire dramatizations. The sound and picture quality are quite good as well. Other than that, there is nothing much offered in terms of special features. This is forgivable, however, considering the fact that Darkness Before Dawn was made before DVD technology was available in practically every household, and the producers may not have been able to foresee its eventual release on DVD.
This film is unique in that it shows a drug-addicted couple's love as ultimately being their salvation; typically in films such as these, the couple's love is overridden by the desire for drugs. Because of its repeated airings on cable and satellite, it is still possible to catch it on television, but it is worth buying as well. Considering the usual hysterics that accompany made-for-television movies, Darkness Before Dawn's unsettling understatements and quality production values make it a worthy investment of your time.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 120 Minutes
Release Year: 1993
MPAA Rating: Not Rated