Drug related movies are always delightfully bleak and depressingly dark. What we have here for a core theme is the question of whether you are able to forge a better future for yourself after you’ve fallen, layered through multiple POVs varying from our main protagonist, an ex-junkie recently released from prison trying to remain clean for her baby’s sake, amoral drug dealers and the police investigating the drug crimes with varying degrees of personal involvement in their job. They certainly were ambitious when making the movie, and kudos for that. But being ambitious also has the risk of falling short of your goal and 8-ball doesn’t really manage to come together into a compact and satisfying package. Instead it’s akin to a crazy quilt, it’s certainly got a lot going on and is filled with things, but it doesn’t form the most concise narrative now does it?
The trouble mainly lies on the uneven handling of the POVs. Pike naturally takes a large portion of the screen time and this means the other characters get less time to work with, and that would be fine were it not for the decision to spend so much time just on the younger police officer Repo, who has so much on its plate at the same time it’s a bit ridiculous. Not only has he just come back to work after being stabbed, he’s also reassigned to a new department and a new partner whose business Repo is not-so-subtly told to sniff around in order to find out if he might be dirty, then there’s Repo having a slight case of PTSD from his stabbing that he’s trying to suppress by himself instead of seeking treatment and the coup de grâce, to top all other clichés, he’s got family trouble where he’s either separated or flat-out divorced, I forget which, and he’s sharing custody of his kid, occasionally making teary eyed calls to his (ex-)wife and sitting in his car in front of her apartment like a stalker. It’s a bit much on one character to juggle when other people could have used that time to build their characters. What really annoys me the most is the family drama, because it never really manages to be anything but clichés, so it doesn’t get you invested. So when at the end Repo is shown to get his family back, it feels so syrupy and fake you want to puke.
The ending is rather weak in all regards. The big climax in Pike’s apartment was good, but the movie more or less fails entirely to build the momentum for it. It just seems to happen instead of being the logical culmination of all the plot threads in an intense domino effect. Given how Pike’s involvement with the police is discovered and it all culminates into a violent confrontation between Pike and the furious Lalli, the movie somehow completely blunders to raise tension, even when Lalli starts to shove his gun in Pike’s mouth during a heated exchange. The aftermath also felt too clean and positive for all parties, given how dark and cynical the movie had been up until that point. The bad guy gets punished and the good guys get to feel good about themselves and all their dreams are fulfilled and everybody basically seems to live happily ever after. That’s just tacky. Now, I don’t really object Pike being able to escape her past and find a new life. She deserved it and you as a viewer wanted that. But it being given to her so easily didn’t feel genuine and true to the rest of the story. It was too much like a fake Hollywood ending, there only to please the viewer, and it brings down what was otherwise a very solid, dark story. A far better resolution would have been to make it all a bit ambiguous and violent, where you’re not entirely sure what happens between the time when Lalli burst into the apartment to exact revenge for snitching and the police arriving later to the scene. Just cut to black with Lalli in midst of erasing blood traces from the apartment when the door is kicked in. Perhaps show flashes of the immediate aftermath during the end credits, Lalli being handcuffed, the rooms being checked but no body in sight, just a trashed apartment with blood everywhere, Repo and his older partner looking saddened and shocked, and then, maybe give a brief hint of what happened to Pike as a post-credits scene, alluding to her being alive after all. Something like that. Not this kittens and butterflies, everybody gets what they wished for crap.