Sara Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn) is a retired widow, living in a small apartment. She spends most of her time watching TV, especially a particular self-help show. She has delusions of rising above her current dull existence by being a guest on that show. Her son, Harry (Jared Leto) is a junkie but along with his friend Tyrone (Marlon Wayans) has visions of making it big by becoming a drug dealer. Harry's girlfriend Marion (Jennifer Connelly) could be fashion designer or artist but is swept along in Harry's drug-centric world. Meanwhile Sara has developed an addiction of her own. She desperately wants to lose weight and so goes on a crash course involving popping pills, pills which turn out to be very addictive and harmful to her mental state. Written by
Premiere voted this film as one of "The 25 Most Dangerous Movies." See more »
(at around 12 mins) When Sara is trying on the red dress but it won't zip up all the way, in the mirror behind her you can see the 'fat suit' used to give Ellen Burstyn the larger appearance. See more »
Great direction, great acting, great score, great script combine to produce a great film that is depressing but totally gripping even if it will not be to everyone's taste
Harry and Tyrone are drug users who decide to try and make some money by cutting their cocaine and selling it on. This idea works very well and the pair start filling a shoe box with $20 bills Harry even buys his mother, Sara, a television to make up for all the times that he used to steal her old one to sell it for cash. Sara has her won good news, after years of being an ordinary lonely widow she has the chance to appear on a television show herself and is actively dieting to try and fit into her favourite dress for it. With Harry's girlfriend pregnant but happily high, things take a bad turn when rival dealers start a war and dramatically cut the availability and up the price forcing Harry and Tyrone to do whatever they can to get not only a fix but a supply to sell. Meanwhile, Sara's desire to lose weight sees her starting a regime of diet pills, morning, noon and night.
I came to this film with not even the slightest idea of what it was about but only that it was supposed to be 'good'. I was not totally prepared for a story that grabbed me from the start and delivered an intense narrative at breakneck pace with great acting, amazingly stylish directing, editing and production. While this onslaught will not be to everyone's tastes, I defy pretty much anyone not to be astonished by this film although I expect many will find it to be a pretty hard ride. The story sees four characters each getting into addiction and having it cause their lives to spiral out of control and that's pretty much it. However it is not so much the story but the telling because it is the delivery that makes the film as amazing and compelling as it is; I don't want to oversell it but all aspects of this film come together perfectly. The writing is realistic and, although not containing the speeches that make a cast shine, is really well written and never strikes a bum note. The script writes highs and lows of addiction so very well that it is easy to forget that what you see in the film has come from a script and story boards.
Of course without the delivery then this would have struggled but it is blessed not only with good actors giving great performances but also average actors giving great performances. Burstyn is amazing and I'm not overdoing that; hers is a fearless performance that is totally, totally convincing. Her descent is so tragic and involving that it is a major art of the story instead of the subplot it appeared it would be. Connelly is the next to stick in the mind, conveying a total peace and beauty when things are good but a terrible sweaty look of inner agony on her face as she degrades herself for drugs an amazing performance. Leto is not someone I'm that aware of but he was good here and held his own well beside the two actresses. However the actual surprise of the film came from Wayans; I'm so used to hating him in lazy performances that I forgot he can act and he is good here avoiding all the ethnic clichés that he usually does. McDonald is excellent in his cleverly used segments. It is easy to dismiss his performance as cheesy and easy but he does get it spot on (as the extras on the DVD show). Supporting roles for people of the recognisable likes of David, Baker, Weeks and Naidu only help.
Of course the main impact of the film comes from the relentless direction that not only produces a stylish product but also draws the audience into the highs and lows the characters experience as well as the repetitive rituals of their lives. He also handles the hallucinations really well making them genuinely disturbing when they come have been silly. I cannot describe it very well but the direction really hits the nail on the head with heavy style and different techniques. Of course, some may feel that they have seen elements of it before and will say of Aronofsky that he has borrowed much of what we see certainly the front mounted camera on the characters harks back to Mean Streets and Spike Lee to name two, while others will look at the reference to Dark City (even though Aronofsky) or claim that the hyper direction is Trainspotting X10! However to accuse him of just stealing is lazy and nonsensical because he weaves it altogether for the whole running time; this is not a rip off or a fluke, this is a talented director spinning style and substance. The score by Mansell and the Kronos Quartet is perfect and is a wonderful compliment to the images, increasing their impact and making the film feel fast and exciting at times, tragic and moving at other times. These are just two examples but the film is technically impressive whether it be the different cameras, the make up, the editing, the use of mobile stop motion, it is all impressive.
Overall this is an amazing film but it is not one that will appeal to all audiences. It is bleak, relentless and a hard watch but it is worth it because it grabs you and refuses to let you go until the very end. The film has a simple plot but a great script that is delivered by a collection of great performances in particular from Burstyn and Connelly. The direction only adds to Aronofsky's reputation and the original score is fantastic. I am rarely left breathless by a film but I was by this one and I honestly cannot believe that this escaped me for so many years.
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