James Frey (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) becomes so consumed by drug and alcohol addiction that his life is in danger. He thus agrees to go through detox at a treatment centre in Minnesota. There, he meets a number of individuals including mafia boss Leonard (Billy Bob Thornton) and Lilly (Odessa Young), the latter of whom he starts a relationship with in spite of it being against rules at the facility.
How 'A Million Little Pieces' made it to the big screen is somewhat perplexing given the backdrop of the source novel. It was marketed as a memoir and became a bestseller endorsed by the likes of Oprah Winfrey when published in 2003. However it emerged that its author had exaggerated and even fabricated parts of the book. That didn't stop Frey from producing two further successful novels, and now Sam Taylor-Johnson (wife of lead actor Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who she also co-wrote the script and produced the movie with), who previously directed 'Fifty Shades of Grey', has adapted it for film after the movie rights were purchased but it was shelved following the forgery revelations.
Sam Taylor-Johnson handles the controversial backdrop to the novel in an interesting way as in the first instance, her opening shot is a Mark Twain quote reading "I've lives through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened", which embraces the duplicity of the source. She then proceeds to make a film about drug addiction rather than an accurate depiction of a life, including such artsy moments as a scene where James slips in mud dripping off the walls of the rehab centre he has just checked into. In another shot, he holds his arm out and hundreds of multi coloured pills fall from above. Such moments recall movies like 'Trainspotting' or 'Requiem for a Dream', but 'A Million Little Pieces' can't really hold a candle to these films in their force of vision and enduring nature.
Other films that come to mind include 'One Flew Over a Cuckoo's Nest' and 'K-Pax' as these also follow individuals in a facility surrounded by unique personas. Billy Bob Thornton is undoubtedly the standout here, lighting up the screen whenever present and oozing confidence and charisma. Odessa Young and Charlie Hunham, who plays James's brother, also pull in strong performances, and this may be Aaron Taylor-Johnson's best to date as he succinctly captures Frey's guilt and anger. It's a step in the right direction for the actor after 'Godzilla' proved a poor fit and here's hoping (a la Robert Pattinson, who it definitely worked out for) he'll turn to more indie features such as this and the also recent 'Nocturnal Animals'.
'A Million Little Pieces' is a bit too long, involves a last minute twist you see coming a mile away, and has a silly conclusive moment that sees our protagonist look at his reflection in the mirror. It's nothing you haven't seen a hundred times before but the strength of the acting pulls it through.