Director: Johan Renck
Screenwriters: Pamela Cuming, Lee Ross
Producers: David Moore, Igor Kovacevich, Jason Essex, Cole Payne
Cast: Maria Bello, Jason Patric, Rufus Sewell, Amy Brenneman
U.S.A., 2007, 96 min.
*When Albert Stockwell (Rufus Sewell) comes home from work one day, he finds a note from his wife of 15 years, Nancy (Maria Bello), saying she has gone to see friends. It is a lie. After waiting several days, Albert realizes that his wife is missing. Nancy has met her salvation on the Internet in the form of Louis Farley (Jason Patric). Nancy and Louis, both wounded souls, take comfort in one another through e-mail, pictures, and promises of perverse sexual encounters. Nancy has finally found the one and only thing that can liberate her from the pain in her life. But will this couple be able to see it through to the end?
Though disturbing and at times relentlessly raw, Downloading Nancy is stunningly executed; director Johan Renck forces the viewer to succumb to the darkness these characters face in the world—if not with empathy or sympathy, at least with understanding. His finely crafted narrative moves strategically through the plot points, relying heavily on a superb cast so talented that they leave indelible impressions in their wake. Watching Downloading Nancy is like prolonging the instance—if you even see it coming—when the anticipation of extreme pain takes your breath away.
*Summary by John Cooper, SUNDANCE Film Programmer
Wow, this was too much for me. Maybe I am just unable to objectively review films about sexual abuse (such as An American Crime from last year’s festival), or maybe I just need some positive resolutions to my movies, but Downloading Nancy struck me as sensationalistic and manipulative. In the Q&A afterwards, the filmmakers made an effort to stress how hard they worked to make this film realistic and not revel in the depth of perversion presented here, but I just don’t agree. There are some admirable scenes in this film, and I might have been able to grade it higher if it weren’t for two or three unnecessary scenes that wallowed in the filth.
Maria Bello plays a very complicated character and for the most part, she succeeds. If there is one actress in America today ready to try a role no matter how strange, degrading, or physically exposing, it is Maria Bello. She plays a woman who has been abused throughout her childhood by her uncle. All this abuse twists her into a person who can only feel something when cutting herself or engaging in violent sex. Nancy is impulsive, dangerous, and scary, and Bello balances these emotions in her body language and movements. There is an extremely effective moment early in the film when Nancy is in therapy, when she is talking with the therapist. As she talks, one of her eyes blink, but in this spastic strange twitch that instantly communicates to the audience that this character is mentally deranged. It is only in the final scene that Bello becomes a little too screechy with her character and it feels like ‘acting’. But for such a unique and new character, she does damn well.
Nancy is married to Albert, played very well by Rufus Sewell, a pathetic, yet scary quirk of a man. He is obsessed with neatness, order, and golf, but lives his life in a fishbowl. Instead of playing golf outdoors, he confines himself to his basement deriving enjoyment from playing video golf. All his reactions are off a bit, he is unpredictable, creepy, and has certainly not helped to understand Nancy and her compulsions. Nancy has a nice monologue later in the film where she talks about how her 15 years of marriage with Albert has taught her about only one thing: loneliness.
The problems I have with the film are mostly centered on the depictions of the abusive sex Nancy engages in with Jason Patric’s character, Louis. It bothers me enough to see Louis burn Nancy’s vagina with a cigarette, or blindfold her and make her walk on mousetraps. But the scene where Nancy is tied naked to a bed as Louis runs a jagged piece of glass over her face, finally cutting her vagina as she screams and moans is just exploitation. I get it, she has a problem, so does he, but I think it could have been handled more subtly. I couldn’t get past the image in my mind of this last scene.
Immediately after the glass scene, Louis and Nancy have a conversation in a pet store that almost brought me back into the film. She asks him to kiss her nicely and the music intensifies as they share a romantic kiss. It is a poignant moment where it seems like Nancy and Louis might have found love if it just wasn’t too late. Another beautiful moment was when Nancy was kicking a mitten down the aisle of tool store. It was a beautiful shot and an evocative moment, later turned prescient when Nancy cut open her hand with a box cutter. The ending was more subtle then I expected, but still horrific, with too many shots of Nancy’s suffocating face. I thought Jason Patric really didn’t do that good of a job and paled in comparison to Bello. It was hard to believe his commitment to abuse and some of his scenes with Albert came off as funny when they weren’t supposed to.
I also had a hard time believing the therapy scenes. It seems to me that anyone exhibiting the tremendous mental problems Nancy has would have been committed a long time ago. She is clearly a suicide risk and a risk to others based on her public behavior. I just couldn’t get in Downloading Nancy, it was horrific and I couldn’t help feeling manipulated by the images. I can recommend Maria Bello’s acting, but not much else. I have no connection with these characters and hope I never do. But I have to dig up my finishing line in my review of An American Crime: Just because I can’t handle the level of abuse presented in Downloading Nancy, doesn’t mean that someone else won’t see this film in the light the director intended.