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IN SHORT: As impressive as it is unpleasant to sit through [Not Rated. 100 minutes]
BE AWARE: Requiem for a Dream was not submitted to the Ratings Board because it would have gotten, no question about it, an NC-17 Rating. That kills virtually all possibility of advertising in newspapers and regular media. There are very explicit scenes of drug taking and some sexual situations that go far beyond anything previously seen in "legit" movies, Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers included.
Since he didn't leave an email address, we'll address reader "Daren" right here. He wrote:
Cranky don't even bother reviewing this film. It is brilliant and disturbing, two things you despise in movies. The last thing the web needs is another one of your zero dollar reviews for a fantastic movie you misunderstood. Don't deface this masterpiece with one of your faulty reviews. DON'T REVIEW IT! Leave this film for the experts to analyze and critique. Thank you.
Let me put this in English so Big D can understand what I've written several times before: I have no problem with brilliant and disturbing. Actually, one of the reasons we sit through arthouse targeted flicks is that, every once in a while, there are certain films that deserve to be seen by a wider audience. What I don't happen to like is the film student/ arthouse mentality which seems to believe that, if a film is disturbing enough to make you nauseous in your seat, it is a good thing. Most of the time, these flicks feature pretentious visual framing and no-name actors doing master thespian shtick with lousy scripts. Their directors waste our time with visual indulgence that does nothing other than to say "look what I can do with a camera." The arthouse exists so that first timers can work out all that crap and then move on to learn how to tell a story. End of vent, 'cuz that's not what is at work here.
Requiem for a Dream, masterfully filmed by writer/director Darren Aronofsky is, visually, terrific. When Aronofsky gets visually artsy, he is still telling his story. We give points for that. He also gets incredible and incredibly affecting performances by name brand stars -- Ellen Burstyn and up and comers Jared Leto and Jennifer Connelly for his story, which is absolutely, positively not going to put a spring in your step when you leave the theater. Requiem, simply, is a "drugs are bad and everyone's addicted to something" story. There's no other way to put it: Requiem for a Dream is a one-note symphony in the same critical way that any Arnold movie is about blowing things up. One note. It just happens to be made about a subject in a way which had thirtysomething aged audience members saying "Well. That was unpleasant." on the way out of the theater. Quote. Unquote.
What I do like, I've also said this again and again, is great acting. Requiem for a Dream is stuffed with it. Add Marlon Wayans to the listed actors above and you've got four of 'em, which is three more than you usually get. If you're lucky.
Sara Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn), like the rest of the widows that lug their folding chairs out to the sidewalk in front of the Brighton Beach (New York) apartment building where they live, is old and lonely and spends her days planted in front of the teevee with a box of chocolates in hand, watching infomercials for juice diets hosted by Tappy Tibbons (Christopher McDonald). Sara is bordering on desperate. When she gets tapped to appear on a teevee game show she gets her hair dyed and breaks out her favorite red dress, which fit beautifully about fifty pounds ago. Sara tries following the "Lose 10 Pounds in 10 Days Diet" but it just isn't fast enough. So she visits a nice man in a white coat and starts a purple - blue - orange, and green-before-bedtime pill regimen. Son Harry (Jared Leto) recognizes mom's teeth grinding as symptomatic of the speed freak she's become and is quite upset and shocked and dismayed. Harry has good reason to be upset. He's on the needle and so is his girlfriend Marion Silver (Jennifer Connelly) and best friend Tyrone C. Love (Marlon Wayans). Harry and Tyrone are happy little junkies, shooting up and selling the stuff to cover the fix and generate substantial income. They've got a good supplier. Mom's got a good pharmacy. All is fine in the summertime in which Requiem for a Dream starts.
Then comes Fall and after that Winter, all titled on screen. It's as subtle as a flying mallet and everyone does a significant crash and burn. The women characters are portrayed sympathetically. The men, not. We understand the love affair and the lure of drugs. We don't understand needle culture or heroin chic. If we ever had the desire to -- never, actually -- a hundred minutes of Requiem for a Dream would've wiped that out entirely.
More points to Aronofsky for packing it in and concentrating his storytelling style. Anyone else, especially at this time of the year would have aimed for the three hour mark. If you want to do a heavy duty subtext analysis, there's some background, but not much, to these characters. Sara has no life, which is part of her problem. Marion and Harry talk about opening up a shop and rent the space, but everything fades under the ever growing need for the next fix. Sara alone has some background characterization for Burstyn to work with. All else is personality run rampant in compoelling performances. More than worth the time and absolutely unpleasant as Hell.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Requiem for a Dream, he would have paid...
As high as we'll go for a film you'll walk out of wishing that you hadn't walked in to. For the acting, which presents substantial characters on screen even when there is nothing substantial behind them. Getting any film to communicate any aspect of the drug taking experience has been, to this point, impossible. We've never seen it done. Now we have. Sitting through Requiem for a Dream felt more like watching Death on a Highway back in Driver's Ed. The crowd I sat with, all paying customers this time out, were sarcastically commenting "Yeah. I really got to go shoot up now..." on the way out as well.
Aronofsky, by the way, has been signed to direct Batman: Year One. We know Frank Miller's Batman story well. We think Aronofsky was a perfect pick for it. More in a year or two.
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