Another believable and often unpleasant-to-watch visit to the world of drug addicts, in the same wrenchingly rewarding vein as "Requiem for a Dream", debuting writer-director Rosemary Rodriguez's "Acts of Worship" premiered at Sundance.
It won several awards at the Santa Barbara film fest -- including one for Ana Reeder
for best actress -- and made its local bow at the Egyptian on Hollywood Boulevard as part of the American Cinematheque's "Alternative Screen" series.
Set on New York's Lower East Side, "Acts" is Rodriguez's autobiographical drama of an attractive young woman (Reeder) from greener pastures who has given herself over to the false paradise of crack cocaine and heroin, and the pathetic lifestyle that results. Not as stylized and complex as "Requiem", the tersely naturalistic and overall adeptly realized "Acts" is another worthy indie that may go homeless, so to speak, but it has a life on the festival circuit and certainly deserves attention.
With long blond hair and street smarts, the lead has an evil boyfriend and many cohorts in the daily process of scoring and getting high. There's a strung-out couple who deal drugs and let her take their young boy for walks. There are sidewalk vendors who provide her with cash or stash for stolen items. Owing money to crazed crackheads and selling her body for drugs at one point, she is dishonest, volatile and uses everyone -- and expects the same in return.
Her "God" is heroin, and another character, a black woman and reformed addict (Michael Hyatt) who tries to help the lead after an overdose, says knowingly that "crack is like falling in love all over again." For a few scenes, these two support each other in a sober lifestyle, but the struggle to kick the habit is a battle many lose, and the climax is powerfully tragic.
Reeder's impressive performance is utterly convincing, and the supporting cast, led by Hyatt's subtle approach, is equal to the grim milieu. From the sparing use of music to heighten the documentary-like aspects of some sequences to Luke Geissbuhler
's harsh but cliche-free cinematography, "Acts" is solid filmmaking.
ACTS OF WORSHIP
Screenwriter-director: Rosemary Rodriguez
Producers: Nadia Leonelli
, Fredrik Sundwall
, Rosemary Rodriguez
Director of photography: Luke Geissbuhler
Production designer: Johnny Hardesty
Editor: Elizabeth Downer
Costume designer: Jan Bohan
Music: Jim Coleman
Casting: Susan Shopmaker
Alix: Ana Reeder
Digna: Michael Hyatt
Mark: Christopher Kadish
Anthony: Nestor Rodriguez
Dan: Brian Burchill
Running time -- 94 minutes
No MPAA rating