Sundance Festival Director Geoff Gilmore introduced Downloading Nancy as "the most intense film of the festival." Not only is he absolutely right, but it's also powerful, emotional, overwhelming and, most importantly, extremely uncomfortable. God bless whoever takes a chance on this film and attempts to market it, honestly, to a mass audience, because Downloading Nancy is a sick and twisted rollercoaster ride that climbs fast and drops slowly ... leaving you plenty of time to absorb its raw insanity along the way.
Should this film get picked up and play in theaters at some point during the year, then I'd be completely shocked if Maria Bello doesn't wind up with an Oscar nod for best actress in 2009. Sure, it's a little early to be saying that, but this woman gives the performance of the festival -- and of her career -- as a lonely, emotionless wife on the brink of complete self destruction. There aren't many actresses who can successfully pull off what Bello does here; hers is the sort of role that comes up every once in a blue moon and completely paralyzes you for two hours as you sit and try to comprehend how in the world a person could convincingly become this tragic character just from reading a script.
Bello plays Nancy, a wounded woman who's days away from finally cracking. Her marriage to the stone cold golf-obsessed Albert (Rufus Sewell) lacks emotion and intimacy, and so Nancy turns to the online world for a way out of her marriage, out of herself and out of her life. But she's not looking to have an affair; a fling with an online buddy or three -- something to clear her mind, provide some excitement to an otherwise empty life. Instead, she's looking to hire someone to kill her. But not just kill her; to torture her physically, emotionally, sexually -- then to strike when she least expects it. And she seems to find that someone in Louis (Jason Patric), a quiet observer hiding from his own dark past.
First time feature director Johan Renck draws from his highly successful days as a commercial and music video director by creating a non-linear film broken up into several vignette-type scenes that eventually piece together a thought-provoking, well-written story. One that you'll either love or hate -- after all, uncomfortable films like this one often have trouble finding fans. You might say to yourself ... "what's the point of watching Bello naked, strapped to a bed, while Patric glides a piece of sharp glass down her body and, eventually, up her dress?"
But there is a point somewhere, albeit one that could easily be passed off as "shock value fluff." However, for you to think that means you clearly don't believe there are woman out there like Nancy. Woman who've suffered from emotional, physical and sexual abuse for so long that the pain becomes comforting and natural. The pain equals acceptance. It replaces love. This is who Nancy is, and despite attempts to heal through therapy, she just can't find a reason to keep going. Eventually, Louis begins to fall in love with Nancy; he relates to her suffering and he'd like to be the one who finally saves her even though the reality is exactly the opposite. Or is it?
By the end, each character will confront themselves, as well as each other, and search for redemption. In the meantime, you'll be left searching for a reason to either love or hate this film. My only hope is that you think about it before you react. That's something Nancy never did. And it's something all of us need to do more often.