Based on my friend (and Center of the World co-star) Peter Sarsgaard’s recommendation I went to see “Down to the Bone” the other day. I suspected, the film would have an edge and be very character-driven, as that is what drives Peter as an actor (see his performances from the edge in Boys Don’t Cry, Center of the World and The Salton Sea).
Down to the Bown is a drug film, but it is not shocking or sensationalist. No women are forced into prostitution, no one becomes a murderer to support their habit and there are no triumphs.
Bone’s spectrum of drug use is much more mundane, in fact it is down right boring and that is the strength of the film. Liberated from the “shocking” nature of drug movie clich?the film can move on to more important topics like trust, hope, love and, well, life.
Vera Farmiga plays Irene, a working mother in upstate New York who has been addicted to cocaine her whole adult life. When Irene decides to check into rehab and turn her life around she realizes that being clean is as messy as being an addict.
At one poignant moment Irene is called into her manager’s closet of an office at the supermarket. There she is confronted with the print out that shows she is checking people out slower then she’s has in the past. She has also been cranky and rude to the customers. When she confesses that she was faster then because she was high all the time, and that now she is clean and slower the managers show no sympathy when firing her.
She is welcomed home every day by a moderate drug using husband who encourages his wife to get back on drugs so they, or rather he, can have sex again.
Irene takes up with a rehabbed drug user, Bob (played by Hugh Dillon), who is a nurse at the same hospital she is in rehab at. The pair’s love affair is short-lived, as Irene finds Bob in the act of shooting up. His excuse is because he wanted to make their love making perfect not dissimilar to the husband she left for him.
What becomes clear in the film is that having and conquering drug addition is not horrible, inspirational or impossible. It’s hard, repetitive and tedious.
Down to the Bone is not a film for everyone. It’s dark without being exciting (like Drugstore Cowboy), it’s sad but not sensationalist (like Traffic) and it’s smart and not stupid (like 28 Days).
The film stays with you, as do the superb performances. As I expected, Peter was right about this one.