Downloading Nancy is an interesting, provocative film that never arrives at much of a payoff. Even now, a few hours after watching it, the movie's ending is already fading from my memory, because it brings nothing further to the table. Director Johan Renck shows great skill in his creation of a cold, oppressive world that the film's title character, played to tortured perfection by Maria Bello, is unable to stand. Ultimately, though, it seems like the subject matter might have been better tackled in a shorter piece, as Downloading Nancy is ultimately more interested in presenting a situation rather than resolving it.
Bello's Nancy has survived molestation, but she's struggling with her marriage. Her husband, Albert (Rufus Sewell) is quietly distant, almost silently rejecting every effort she makes to get him to react to her in any way -- emotionally, sexually, physically. Albert is more interested in work, and as a result Nancy has befriended Louis (Jason Patric), a mysterious, slightly ominous stranger that Nancy meets in a dirty-looking bus station after one of Albert's wordless dismissals. Intercut throughout, we see Nancy's attempts to find psychological peace through sessions with a psychiatrist (Amy Brenneman), attempts that are unsuccessful.
Often in stories about infidelity, I have a hard time relating to the cheater in question, because nine times out of ten (or perhaps ninety-nine times out of one hundred), it doesn't seem like an acceptable solution to the problems in the existing relationship. Of course, adultery is never the correct solution, but Downloading Nancy makes a pretty convincing case of Albert as an emotionally walled-up man whose bitterness is eating away at Nancy. Equal credit has to go to both Sewell and Bello for portraying the underlying contempt with the right amount of passiveness; Nancy isn't irritatingly confrontational and Albert is crushingly distant. There is a scene where Nancy mischeivously tries to start a food fight with Albert at the dinner table, and his stone-faced reaction will put the viewer right in Nancy's shoes as she shrivels, almost embarrassed by her attempt to have some fun with her husband.
Nancy is also a cutter, her arms covered in lines like a prison inmate might scratch on a wall. No offense to anyone who has had problems like this in real life, but my feeling is that it's a tricky thing to portray a character like this and not come off as whiny; in any case, once again, Bello succeeds, putting the right combination of exhaustion, desperation and sorrow on her face that sells the character's deep spiral downward. Nancy's sexual relationship with Louis is also focused on pain, with both parties taking pleasure in the abuse. The scenes that come off whiny and stilted are her scenes with the psychiatrist: unlike the characters of Albert and Louis, Brenneman's doctor has less of a personal connection with Nancy, and the scenes become one-sided. Downloading Nancy is at its best when focused on the interpersonal, rather than the solely personal.
In that area, not only are there good scenes between Nancy and Albert and Nancy and Louis, but there are also great scenes between Albert and Louis, with the character showing up near the middle of the movie at Albert's house, posing as a computer repairman. The combination of Albert's moodiness and the creepy isolation of the Louis character is a potent mix, and these scenes contain some of the movie's most unpredictable and interesting interactions. Right after the last scene between Albert and Louis, however, an unseen event occurs, some flashbacks are shown, and the movie crawls to a close. Many movies claim to be a peek into the lives of strangers, but real life has a way of feeling unresolved. Whether or not the viewer wants to see this open-endedness represented on screen (especially in such a bleak movie) is something else entirely.
The DVD, Video and Audio
Downloading Nancy arrived in a paper sleeve, so I'm not 100% positive that the video and audio presentation on this DVD will match release versions, and I can't grade the packaging. However, I feel fairly confident (looking at the disc's contents) that this is final copy, so I'll say that this 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation looks both good and rough at the same time. The image is on the soft side, but from a reasonable distance, the image still exhibits a reasonable amount of depth, and blacks are pretty deep (if grainy) throughout. I did notice some flecks of print damage (odd for a new movie), though.
Audio is Dolby Digital 2.0. Most of the film is extended dialogue scenes, without much going on in the way of ambience or sound effects, although the score pipes in once in awhile. The 2.0 track is acceptable: I don't see how 5.1 would have been much of an improvement given the film itself. Disappointingly, no subtitles or captions are included, which is troubling during much of Nancy's mumbled dialogue.
The movie's original theatrical trailer and a gallery of trailers for other Strand releases (including Peter and Vandy, Lion's Den, The Missing Person, The Headless Woman, A Woman in Berlin, and Perestroika) are all that is included on the disc.
Fans of independent film who are not scared off by a slow pace, dark tone and vague ending might want to give it a rental if they consider themselves a fan of one or more of the movie's three lead performers, who are all in great form. Other viewers, consider only at your own risk.
Please check out my other DVDTalk DVD, Blu-Ray and theatrical reviews and/or follow me on Twitter.