Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sleepwalking: Grade B

Sleepwalking (2008)
Charlize Theron, Nick Stahl, Annasophia Robb, Woody Harrelson, Dennis Hopper. Director Bill Maher (not the comic).

Rarely will you see such fine acting, by every player in the film. Theron (also produced) is a master. Hopper electrifies the screen, as he always does. Stahl, who is in nearly every scene, is totally convincing, as is the amazing young Robb. This is acting at its finest.

However the story is utterly bleak. A deeply troubled single mom (Theron) is suddenly made homeless when her loser boyfriend is busted for drugs. She crashes at her brother’s (Stahl) decrepit apartment. The confused daughter (Robb) is “creeped out” by her uncle. It is a very awkward situation, then the mom disappears, leaving a note that she will be back in “about a month.” The daughter is devastated. Out of emotional necessity, she forms a tentative relationship with her uncle. He loses his job and the apartment so they drive a beat up car to his abusive father’s (Hopper) derelict cattle farm. And so on. There is no plot. It is just a story about characters at the very bottom of the societal food chain, how they cope with life. There is some development in Stahl’s character toward the end, but overall, the story has no point.

The scenery, costumes and sets are unrelentingly desolate. It is the dead of winter in Denver, on the depressing side of the tracks. Everything is cold, gritty, grubby; the characters dull and unknowing. They are all poor, uneducated and unskilled, so they have no choice but to blunder through their lives. This makes the pace of the film slow, and if you stick with it, the effect is a merciless emotional downer. Yet the acting is so good, directing so nuanced, dialog so honest, production values so perfect, that you realize you have just seen a fine piece of American cinema.

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