Downloading Nancy



Sundance Film Festival

PARK CITY -- As a first time feature director, Johan Renck fails to appreciate the difference between risk-taking and recklessness. In "Downloading Nancy," the Swedish video and commercial director seeks artistic adventure but winds up with pointless self-indulgence. While bravely tossing aside all commercial considerations to trace the final days of an irredeemably damaged and suicidal woman through self-mutilation, sado-masochism and violent death, Renck nevertheless wallows on the surface of this sad events rather than probe for meaning. The "Inspired by True Events" tagline doesn't let him off the hook: An artist is challenged by true events to re-think and re-examine them, not simply repeat them.

Maria Bello, abused in childhood by an uncle with grievous results to both body and soul, is trapped in a loveless marriage to a cold-hearted bastard, played with slimy excess by Rufus Sewell. Her only relief is self-mutilation. His only relief is putting golf balls in the basement.

She meets a fellow pain addict on the Internet. She proposes they meet, get a few kinks out of their system and then she will pay him to kill her.

The man, played by Jason Patric with swarthy ambivalence, agrees. Only he likes the kinks he shares with her, grows highly attached emotionally and has qualms about fulfilling his promise.

These events run parallel with events before and after their fateful encounter: Scenes from a pathetic marriage play out in counterpoint to the wife spilling her marital woes to shrink Amy Brenneman. The latter sequences exist solely to provide backstory. Otherwise, they represent the most fruitless therapy scenes in cinema.

Meanwhile, after the Internet chat-room buddies have met, Patric's character turns up for no reason at the husband's house. Sensing whom the guy must be, the husband attacks him with a golf club, ties him up and then learns the awful truth about his sham marriage -- although none of this should surprise him.

Pamela Cuming and Lee H. Ross' script belabors the obvious, indulges in the mire of human self-destruction, but shows little interest in getting past shocks to examine the intolerable human pain behind such acts. The actors gamely struggle to find some truth here, but their director lets them down: Renck sees nothing other than True Events to exploit.

This has to be the ugliest film ever shot by that remarkable cameraman Christopher Doyle. Admittedly, the sets looks crummy, especially those that supposedly representing a fine house in suburbia, and exteriors are improbably desolate. But the drab, virtually colorless lighting and unimaginative camera angles create a relentless visual monotony that threaten to inflict nearly as much pain on viewers as the characters do on themselves.

Tule River Films
Director: Johan Renck
Writers: Pamela Cuming, Lee H. Ross
Producers: David Moore, Igor Kovacevich, Jason Essex, Cole Payne
Director of photography: Christopher Doyle
Production designer: Lauri Faggioni
Music: Kristen Linder
Costume designer: Demise Ostholm
Editor: Johan Soderberg
Nancy: Maria Bello
Louis: Jason Patric
Albert: Rufus Sewell
Carol: Amy Brenneman
Running time -- 101 minutes
No MPAA rating