Of all the tired and painfully cliched cinematic premises, the one that's really been done to death of late is the road movie.

Most recently, it's served as the basis for lowbrow comedies, coming-of-age dramas, scary thrillers and ooey-gooey, touchy-feely family films. So you'd be right to go into "Aberdeen" with a suspicious eye.

And, truth be told, this extremely well-acted drama revolves around a whole series of overdone plot contrivances, such as the one that delves into a character's reunion with a dying relative.

Yet the material is treated with such brutal honesty and the performances are so strong that it actually makes what should be stale material look fresh. Perhaps more surprising is the fact that even the film's harsh realities — it looks rather unflinchingly at substance and sexual addictions — can't mask its genuine affection for the characters.

The central character is Kaisa Heller (Lena Headey), a successful London lawyer headed for Scotland. That's where her estranged mother, Helen (Charlotte Rampling), has been hospitalized. Unfortunately for Kaisa, she's not alone. Accompanying her on the trip is Tomas (Stellan Skarsgard), her alcoholic father, who hasn't spoken to either woman in years.

Getting Tomas clean and sober, and getting him to Aberdeen before her mother dies, is quite a challenge for Kaisa — especially when she's dealing with a few demons of her own, including her addictions to cocaine and casual sex.

But she does receive some unexpected help from Clive (British character actor Ian Hart), a sympathetic truck driver who gives them a ride in his rig and who forms a surprising attachment to Kaisa.

Again, the material is nothing new. But Norwegian director Hans Petter Moland (1995's "Zero Kelvin") delivers his messages with an emotional sucker punch that even the rather sentimental ending can't undercut.

His two leads also deliver career-highlight performances. Playing an emotional distraught headcase, Headey is completely believable — something at which her underwhelming performances in such schlock as "Gossip" never hinted. Skarsgard is even better, playing a flawed, self-centered man who at first has no interest in anyone but himself, but who then comes to grips with his own selfishness.

"Aberdeen" is not rated but would probably receive an R for frequent use of strong profanity, violence (beatings, including violence against women), nudity (female and full male), simulated drug use (cocaine), simulated sex and use of crude gestures and sexual slang terms. Running time: 103 minutes.


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