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Down to the Bone
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by Chris Parry

"A noble effort, but tough to get through."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2004 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL: When the words 'stark' and 'gritty' and 'edgy' are associated with your feature film, there are two things you better hope you have at hand. One is a screenplay that makes the pain worthwhile. The other is a cast that is compelling enough to make us want to bother enduring the pain. Down to the Bone doesn't really have either... but it comes close.

When Down to the Bone opens, it's with a cake featuring an American flag rolling towards a checkout clerk. Symbolism much? Oh yes, and if you're going to sit down with Down to the Bone, you better get used to that, because one thing this film has in abundance is symbolism. It has more symbolism than... a really symobilc thing. Okay, I cna't think of anything to even compare it to, that's how much of the stuff is present.

Every segueway seems to feature a US flag in a depressing state. Because, like, the director is making a comment on the US, right? Get it? Well, just in case you don't, it'll be repeated ad nauseum.

Now don't get me wrong here. I'm a fan of taking jibes at the current state of the US as much as anyone. Perhaps even moreso. But if you're going to take a shot, make it one good one, not seventeen small ones that end up feeling like someone jabbing your ribs witgh their little finger.

The storyline covers a working class mom (Dummy's Vera Farmiga) who is addicted to cocaine. She's not actually a big fan of the white stuff, but it has enough of a hold over her so as she eventually goes looking for help and checks herself into rehab. But her road to recovery is not an easy one, and when she gets involved in an affair, things begin to get all out of whack.

Sound like fun? Not exactly. But in order to make 'not fun' at least compelling, you really need to have your dominoes in line, and Down to the Bone just doesn't. Farmiga, while strong, isn't strong enough to make her character one that we can really invest much of our own emotion in. The cinematography is strong, but not so strong as to make the film a wonder to look at. The characterizations are strong, but not strong enough that we can truly empathize with the lead character. And the direction is... well, that's not really strong at all, mostly because the director, Debra Granik, is trying really hard to get involved in your thought process.

Down to the Bone will be one of those films that some people hold up as genius, and others walk away from after thirty minutes. Whether you're ready for the ride really depends on whether you're looking for traditional filmic fare, or whether you're in the mood to be dragged into the depths of depression. Personally, I'd have liked more subtlety, an occasional ray of sunshine, and less symbolism.

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originally posted: 01/30/04 07:55:08
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Seattle Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/02/04 Snake Charmer Junkie meets X-Junkie -get the picture - Check out the X-Junkie--it's worth a look 4 stars
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  25-Nov-2005 (NR)
  DVD: 31-Oct-2006



Directed by
  Debra Granik

Written by
  Debra Granik
  Richard Lieske

  Vera Farmiga
  Hugh Dillon
  Clint Jordan
  Caridad De La Cruz

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