Requiem for a Dream (DVD, 2001, Unrated)

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A Startling, Revolutionary Nightmare - Absolutely Brilliant!

May 26, 2001 (Updated Jun 27, 2001)
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Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Absolutely brilliant filmmaking, will be studied for decades to come, Burstyn is phenomenal!

Cons:So harsh, gritty, disturbing, and realistic that most viewers will be turned off

The Bottom Line: Although it is impossible to truly put into words what I feel about this film, I can say that it shocked me, terrified me, moved me, and left me breathless.

The last time I penned a movie review for Epinions was back in December of last year. I had gotten too much into a rhythm of watching a movie, writing a review, and repeating. Don't get me wrong - I enjoy writing reviews and expressing how I feel about particular films, but when I got to where I was spending more time writing reviews than actually watching movies, it became too much for me. I would get a new DVD and often have to put off watching it for a few days just because I felt that I had to write a review of the last film I saw, whether I wanted to or not, before I could see the next one.

Anyway, since I felt like I was not enjoying Epinions anymore, I had to push it to the side. I have been tempted to come back on occasion, most notably to express my enthusiasm for Soderbergh's magnificent Traffic, but I held off. Alas, I saw Darren Aronofsky's latest work, just released to video and DVD this Tuesday night, and I cannot hold back any longer.

Aronofsky first caught the world's eye in 1998 with Pi, a grainy, black and white film which he made for only $60,000. Although that work was not revolutionary, his fascinating style of direction made his film very recognizable and established his name as one to watch. Only two years later, he has proven all who first took notice that he was no fluke. With Requiem for a Dream, an astonishingly realistic, brutally honest work of art in the truest sense, Aronofsky can already be considered one of the greatest film makers of his generation.

Requiem for a Dream is not by any means just another stylish, artsy film. If other film makers were to attempt facets of Aronofsky's style of direction, from his choice of camera placement, to editing techniques, to pacing, they would come off as pretentious, narcissistic, and worst of all, their experimentation would do more harm than good to the viewer's experience of the film. However, with Aronosfky's Requiem For a Dream, every innovative style and technique in the film works to drastically enhance the film's message and impact on the viewer.

Aronofsky's message is simple: drugs are bad, they can force you into a miserable existence to which you may be oblivious, and they can kill you. While there is nothing new or astonishing about the message, it is the way in which it is told, the brutal, relentless, in-your-face realism of each character's downfall that will take your breath away. Never before has an anti-drug film come along that could have near the impact as Requiem can surely have on users. Unfortunately, with its complete lack of humor or any moment that could make you feel the least bit good about life, it will most likely not reach the audience that so desperately needs to see it.

Starting with that of Ellen Burstyn (unrecognizable from her Exorcist fame), each of the four principal players in the cast deliver dead-on performances that are nothing short of awe-inspiring. Burstyn was nominated for an Academy Award for female lead performance which she so deserved to win, but of course the award was given to the undeserving Julia Roberts. Burstyn's portrayal of Sara Goldfarb, a woman who becomes addicted to diet pills in her desire to fit into her favorite red dress from high school for an appearance on TV, is breathtaking from the first scene on. Her downfall is utterly terrifying, painful, and ever-so-difficult to watch, exactly as it should be. Not only is her's far and away the best female performance of 2000, but I can honestly say that it is the best that I have ever witnessed.

Jared Leto (last seen as Angel Face in Fight Club) carries the scenes sans Burstyn like a pro. As with each of the four stars of the film, you never doubt him for an instant, and he will surely elicit very strong emotional responses from you on more than one occasion. Leto plays Harry Goldfarb, Sara's son, who works his way up to control a good deal of heroine traffic but is too addicted to his own supply to stay on top. His performance is not groundbreaking like Burstyn's, but he is still incredibly believable and more than gets the job done.

Harry's girlfriend, Marianne, is portrayed by the astoundingly beautiful Jennifer Connelly. Although she has proven herself to be a great actress in films like Dark City, her performance here is remarkable. Without giving anything away, she has to go to extremes that few, if any, other actresses would dare attempt to evoke the necessary reaction from viewers, and she is perfect in every frame. Her performance is so much more dazzling than Kate Hudson's in Almost Famous and Marcia Gay Harden's in Pollock that it is an absolute crime that she was not even nominated for an Academy Award.

The last of the four addicts in the film is played by Marlon Wayans. Yes, no lie, Marlon Wayans. I don't know how he was chosen to play Tryone, Leto's junkie pal, but Marlon is extraordinary in the role. With this performances, he earns my forgiveness for his horrible turns in Scary Movie, Don't Be a Menace..., Senseless and many more excruciating comedies. Not only does he succeed in his shot at a dramatic role, but he absolutely shines.

Requiem for a Dream earned an NC-17 from the joke of an organization, the MPAA, for a few horrific shots. Artisan chose to release it Unrated instead of compromising Aronofsky's vision by cutting it down to an R. Thank God for Artisan. Unfortunately, as we all know, Blockbuster and Hollywood Video, the two dominating rental chains, cannot rent Unrated or R rated films, so a few very brief cuts had to be made to satisfy them. Do yourself a favor and do not rent it from either of these stores. Heck, I work at Hollywood Video, and I strongly recommend the film to everyone, but I take no shame in encouraging them to get it elsewhere.

Even in its Unrated form, many well known critics, including Harry Knowles and Roger Ebert, have said that not only should teenagers see this film, but it should be shown in high schools across America. I cannot tell you how much I agree. Anyone who would not think twice about trying drugs after seeing Requiem, is already too messed up to begin with. Nothing that the ridiculous War on Drugs or any anti-drug commercials preach could possibly have near the impact that this film exudes.

However, do not believe that this is a preachy don't-do-drugs film because it is not by any means. Requiem is a character study of four hopeless souls trapped in a world from which they cannot escape. It is an exercise in film as an art, a beautiful, heartbreaking vision of Hubert Selby Jr.'s phenomenal novel, and only as its byproduct do we find its undeniably powerful anti-drug message.

Although it is most easily categorized as a drama, Requiem is quite possibly the scariest film that I have ever seen. The film's killer, drugs, will scare you beyond belief. By the time that Aronofsky unleashes all hell in his unbelievable climactic sequence, you will be so terrified that you will tremble in your seat. I am fine in admitting that I have shed a tear or two at such films as Schindler's List, American History X, A Simple Plan and a few others, but never before has watching any film given me the emotional response brought about by the ending of Requiem.

You will not enjoy a second of the ride, but you are missing out on so much if you pass on a chance for a ticket. Aronofsky has secured his place in the list of young film makers, including P. T. Anderson, Tarantino, and Todd Solondz, that are helping to re-inventing the genre for a whole new generation. Requiem for a Dream is far and away the best film of 2000, and it finds its way onto my list of the top ten films ever made.

Unrated for every reason (unfortunately, an R rated version is also available, so be careful) - 10/10

DVD Extras:
This is not a full-fledged DVD review, but just a brief mention of some things to be aware of. First off, this is a great DVD presentation, with incredible use of 5.1 Dolby Digital sound that, in many instances, greatly enhances the experience. Extra features include 2 audio commentaries, 9 deleted scenes (mostly very short - the first five really all make up one scene), a very interesting 35 minute behind-the-scenes documentary mostly shot by a crew member, cast and crew bios and filmographies, a 20 minute interview of Hubert Selby Jr. by Burstyn, trailers, TV spots, and more! However, Aronofsky would not allow most of the extras to be included on the R rated (edited) version, so you must get the Director's Cut (as you should anyway) to get the extra material. For this insistence, again, I salute you Mr. Aronofsky.

Recommend this product? Yes

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