Saturday, December 10, 2005

Down to the Bone - Movie Review (In Search of a Best Actress - Pt.2)

Down to the Bone 2004

And the Best Actress Oscar goes to . . . Vera Farmiga in “Down to the Bone.” Who the bloody hell in what the fuck? Calm down kids, the Oscars aren’t here yet. (And we’ll have to suffer thru those Globe nominations first . . . Ipecac.) But as the awards season kicks into high gear this week, what with the critics groups fumbling over themselves to come up with a decent Best Actress group, one name has caught our attention for being so out of the blue. Or is she? Bum, bum, BUM!!!
But first lets go back to a cold winters day in 1998, when a lady known as Debra Granik won the Short Filmmaking Award at the Sundance Film Festival for a 23 minute take on drug addiction, called “Snake Feed.” Well, it may have taken a few years of scrounging for financial backing, but she expanded on her award winning mini to co-write and direct her feature length debut, “Down to the Bone.” And last week, the Los Angeles Film Critics announced they had crowned one Vera Farmiga the Best Actress of the year! Well, hearing that the film concerned cocaine use, and was winning pre-Oscar buzz for their lead actress, quicker than you can say Richard Pryor on fire (May he rest in peace.), we grabbed our pocket mirror and keys and dashed off to the Cineplex!

The good news is that Vera Farmiga is the real deal with this performance. This is not a story long on plot, in fact one would be hard pressed to unearth any storyline, it is more of a character examination and with the talented Ms. Farmiga in the lead, an enjoyable flick to watch. The bad news is that as with similar Indy fare, the production qualities are less than one would find on an amateur porn site filmed in a tunnel during a blackout. Ah, well. Its part and parcel for the independent film movement, and we have adjusted to it painfully over the years. Its not that we’re demanding stunning visuals, or picturesque postcard scenarios in every filmgoing experience, its just that we would like to place a bottom dollar amount on any film to be at least the equivalent of a chicken sandwich at our corner deli.

Down to the Bone” follows the downward spiral of Irene, a wife, mother of two sons, grocery store clerk and cocaine abuser. (What have we always said about that! Use, don’t abuse!) Set in upstate New York, Irene’s daily existence is not exactly filled with glamour and glitter, and with her loving but equally drug dependent husband she has reached a point where it takes her at least two good lines of Columbia’s purest to gather up the energy to take her kids trick or treating on Halloween. As her daily use escalates, and her paycheck evaporates Irene is nearing the breaking point. Finally recognizing the extent of her dependency, she enrolls in a drug rehab program. She is befriended by a fellow addict, Lucy and a male nurse she had a passing acquaintance with. Surprisingly enough, the male nurse turns out to not be gay or the punchline for a lame franchise of movies. His interest and attention to Irene’s needs eventually lead the pair into a secret tryst. Struggling to maintain her sobriety is not easy when her husband continues to abuse, and Irene finds herself running into the crotch of the attentive male nurse. Soon, they are both fighting drug addiction – it turns out, like all men the male nurse is a lying-heroin-binging-selfish-prick. Typical.

And that my friends is basically the story. What we enjoyed best about “Down to the Bone” is that while it may pull no punches in regards to the human cost of drug addiction, it is also neither preachy nor filled with histrionics. Now, waitacockamamie minute! Don’t histrionics earn Oscar nominations? Yes. Sometimes. And those are usually the leftover bottom of the barrel kind designated as slot fillers on bleak years. The good news is that if the Academy indeed deems to nominate Vera Farmiga as Best Actress, they would not be embarrassing themselves. With her performance as Irene, she bares it all. Literally. She is raw, burnt out, distracted by her love for her family and her desperate need for blow. We feel her pain. Trust us. There is never a moment we didn’t feel that we were watching a complete person onscreen, and that is compliment indeed. Her acting is powerfully effortless.

She is also blessed with a face born for the screen. At times she resembled a cross between the luminescent Cate Blanchett and a young, fiery Faye Dunaway. A little websurfing revealed that she has kept herself busy in minor roles in less than satisfactory films, “Autumn in New York”, “Fifteen Minutes”, the HBO mini-series “Iron Jawed Angels” and the lackluster remake of the “The Manchurian Candidate.” Thankfully, “Down to the Bone” while not a cinema masterpiece has opened the doors to bigger and hopefully better work. Among her future projects are: Martin Scorsese’s all star “The Departed” featuring Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio and Anthony Minghella’sBreaking and Entering” featuring Jude Law. Perhaps it’s not too early to say that if she misses an Oscar nod for her devastatingly gutsy turn in “Down to the Bone”, she may yet one day find herself clutching that little bald gold man.

And in a better year for actresses, we would sadly probably never be talking about this little film. We are willing to bet that the Academy will pull its efforts and close up the doors around more “A-list” talent like, Reese Witherspoon, Charlize Theron, Julianne Moore and Joan Allen – but there are five slots to fill. Although, that sneaky bitch, Felicity Huffman is already landing the laurels for her Indy tranny turn. Still and all, it would not surprise us in the least to hear Vera Farmiga’s name called out come January 31st at some ungodly hour. And you could do worse than blowing (no pun intended) your hard earned cash on this little morbid morsel, but if you do go, enjoy Vera's work. Just don't come crying to us 'cause you found it too depressing or cheaply made. Or come knocking on our door for a quarter. We've cut you off! Bless you all!

Directed by Debra Granik
Written by Debra Granik and Richard Lieske

Vera Farmiga as Irene
Hugh Dillon as Bob
Clint Jordan as Steve
Caridad De La Luz as Lucy
Jasper Daniels as Ben
Taylor Foxhall as Jason

Cinematography by Michael McDonough
Film Editing by Malcolm Jamieson
Costume Design by Nancy Brous
Production Design by Mark White
Set Decoration by Lisa Scoppa