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    Down to the Bone

    Fight the powder

    "Down to the Bone" is a hyperrealist portrait of a woman's struggle to balance her work, kids, marriage and cocaine habit.


    Irene, working a subsistence job at a local grocery store, asks every customer the same question:

    Directed by: Debra Granik.
    Produced by: Jean-Michel Dissard, Susan Leber, Anne Rosellini.
    Written by: Debra Granik, Richard Lieske.
    Cast: Vera Farmiga, Hugh Dillon, Clint Jordan, Caridad 'La Bruja' De La Luz, Jasper Daniels, Taylor Foxhall, Tom Brangle, Edward Crawford, Chris Heitzman, Terry McKenna, Gia Mitchell, Crystal Verdachizzi.
    Cinematography: Michael McDonough.
    Edited by: Malcolm Jamieson.

    Related links: Official site
    Brooklyn Museum 200 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn Sat June 12 | 9:00pm

    Brooklyn International Film Festival 2004
  • Overview
  • A Certain Kind of Death
  • Down to the Bone
  • Ferry Tales
  • Mother's Crossing
  • Official site
  • "Do you have an Advantage card?"

    "No, I'm sorry, I don't," one woman answers.

    "I don't either," Irene says wearily.

    This opening scene is the only time that "Down to the Bone" winks at the audience. It's probably the heroine's only moment of self-pity as well. And this is part of why "Down to the Bone" stands above most drug-addiction movies — it doesn't try to overdramatize its already-serious subject, only to show one person's story in as truthful a way as possible.

    Irene doesn't spend her time agonizing over her cocaine problem — daily life keeps her too busy for that, between work, raising two children, keeping her marriage together and keeping her dealer happy. If she isn't scanning prices on the job, she's making sandwiches at home. She's high but she's functional.

    One day she finds herself in enough of a corner that she knows that the day-to-day-survival approach is becoming a strain, and she checks herself into rehab. The clinic that we see is, I suspect, just like a real rehab clinic because, I assume, it is one. The film uses a number of non-actors, and the clinic scenes have no special airs about them. If the counselors give a certain kind of performance, that's the performance they always give to incoming patients.

    As she struggles against her addiction, her husband's supportiveness is waning, she hasn't even told her employer where she's gone to, and her kids — well, she can't lean on them because they lean on her. But Irene finds two new friends who understand what she's going through. One is a male nurse who once went through rehab himself; another is a fellow recovering addict who plans to put her life back together by starting a house-cleaning business and wants Irene as a partner. These two offer hope but, like everyone else around her, they could hurt more than they help.

    Never from the beginning of the film to the end does it feel like a movie. Events never feel like they were plotted out on a page. The acting (beginning with lead actress Vera Farmiga), the upstate New York setting, the unpolished cinema verite look, the lack of pretensions in the home and the portrayal of daily life, all give the film a rare sense of truth. Just one big-name actor or artistically designed, perfectly illuminated set would have broken that spell in a second. The film is exactly right as it is.

    In its unassuming way, "Down to the Bone" says plenty about human nature, addiction, suffering and redemption, but without ever pointing big flashing arrows at its Important Message. We're convinced that Farmiga's Irene could maintain a cocaine habit for 15 years without some huge on-camera crack-up because we see her do it. The film is much more about letdowns than breakdowns — about the more insidious and incremental wear that this character is enduring and her struggle to stay afloat in spite of it. It's a story that seems to grow from a person's true, complete experience rather than a constructed, one-track drama. It's the opposite of most films about drugs vs. life because it puts life up front.

    JUNE 12, 2004

    Reader comments on Down to the Bone:

  • Jasper Daniels   from Nancy Lazinsky, Sep 12, 2004
  • How can I get this movie ?   from Laura, Mar 20, 2005
  • Jasper   from Barbara Jordan, Nov 9, 2005
  • exceptional film   from Joseph, Jan 6, 2006

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