Cast: Rosario Dawson, Chad Faust, Marcus Patrick
Director: Talia Lugacy
New York University '00
"I don't think you're dumb... I just think at times you're under-exposed to information." -Murphy Brown
Review By: Dan Deevy
Reviewing movies is hardly an essential job to have in the grand scheme of things. It's not like being a doctor and saving lives or being a construction worker helping to build homes and schools without which society would crumble. When the necessities of life have been provided for, art comes in to make that life worth living. Talking about that art and bringing it to the masses is I guess the next step on that chain. So, it's not perhaps the noblest of pursuits and is not always the most fulfilling. On rare occasions, however, a movie comes along that is so special, so unique and so, believe it or not, necessary for people to see that participating in that process reminds me of why I do this.
Descent is one of those movies.
One in four women in this country will be or has been the victim of a rape. It's not a comfortable topic to discuss but it's a compulsory one. The emotions that this type of assault evokes in the victim are traumatizing and can at times be completely life shattering. Countless shelters, victims groups and charities have been set up to help women deal with what this experience has done to them. But what about the women who refuse to seek out that help? What about those who internalize the attack to the point of total obsession over it?
Descent tells the story of Maya, a young woman who loses her entire identity after being date raped by a formerly charming and endearing college football jock in his basement. Rather than report the attack and seek a resolution through the courts, Maya turns inward and ultimately finds her own brand of justice.
Now, just because I said, 'her own brand of justice,' don't expect this to be Enough 2. There is no kick boxing training montage where Rosario does her best J. Lo impression. All of that entertainment world, Hollywood bullshit is the furthest thing from Descent. This film exists in reality terms and is not afraid to steer clear of every cliché that this subject matter could suggest.
Much like the audaciously graphic Requiem for a Dream, this is not an easy film to sit through. The creative team does nothing to shield the audience from the pain taking place. Everything happens in real time. There are no comfortable cut-away's to cushion the blow. As you watch not one but two brutal rape scenes you feel yourself experiencing it along with the character. You develop an empathy for both Maya and Jared that is certainly not common to the movie going experience. In a time when violence and death have been so sanitized that the casual viewer
One of the elements that make this a brilliant film is that it doesn't raise and then answer questions for you. It's a film that presents a situation that begs these questions and then leaves it entirely up to the viewer to wrestle with. I challenge anyone to go see this movie and leave without the overwhelming desire to talk about what you've just seen.
It's almost impossible to believe that this film is the product of a first time writer director, but it most certainly is. NYU Film School alum, Talia Lugacy achieves a tone and an overall feel in this film that most 'big name' Hollywood directors could only dream of. Building from little more than an unwavering vision and the courage to follow through with it, Lugacy has created a film that will not only spark an incredibly successful long lasting career, but will doubtless be shown in those very film classes she herself just finished taking.
Certainly not alone in this arduous process, Lugacy was blessed with an inordinately talented cast of actors who weren't afraid to embrace the darkest sides of themselves to bring this vision to life. Producing partner and friend of over 12 years, Rosario Dawson gives the performance of her career as Maya. I've said it many times since we first saw the film at this year's Tribeca Film Festival, this is Rosario's 'I'm-not-to-be-fucked-with-as-an-actor' role. Yes, she's still gorgeous, probably one of the most beautiful women in Hollywood today, but that will no longer be the first thing people say about her. She gives a multi layered performance that will literally rip your heart out. The final shot of Descent is a long held close up of her face that literally encapsulates the characters entire journey through the film; all of it expressed through the subtlety of her expressions. It's absolutely breathtaking.
Equally impressive as her attacker and eventual victim Jared is Chad Faust. Formerly only known as The 4400 guy, he is poised to burst on to the scene in a major way following this performance. He exposes himself in an emotional and physical way that only a handful of other actors would be willing to attempt. By films end, he has endured and accurately portrayed perhaps the most horrifying experience a man can bear. Firstly abusing Rosario's character in the most emotionally destructive manner imaginable to then surrendering all control over body and soul to the final horrific scene is brave in a way that we don't often see.
This films artistic strength will also doubtless be its commercial short coming. Don't expect to see Descent raking in the millions at the box office this weekend, but also don't expect it to fade away. The people who
Ohh yeah, and everyone who wants to see Chad naked :-)
Movie Grade: A+