Debra Granik's independent drama "Down to the Bone" builds with a strong, quiet intensity. What may seem like a passive experience -- watching the story of a weary, drug addicted mother in a small upstate New York town trying to rebuild her crumbling life -- becomes a shared act. It's impossible not to care for Irene (Vera Farmiga) during her painful path to recovery, to rejoice in her small moments of pleasure and to suppress the need to scream when she falls. Don't do it. Don't.
Vera Farmiga received a Special Jury Prize at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival for her incredibly naturalistic performance. She is achingly real as Irene, the woman who is almost invisible behind the check-out counter at the local supermarket. Hugh Dillon, who plays her nurse, boyfriend, and co-consipirator, also gives a lovely, moving performance as a man with all the best intentions.
Granik (who won the Best Director prize at Sundance) skillfully follows Irene's day-to-day existence. She takes us inside the local dealer's house, inside her own run-down home with her two patient young sons and her unsupportive husband, and provides a real understanding of the rhythms and routines of a not-so-flush rehab center. She focuses the camera on uncomfortable group therapy sessions, yoga classes, and the state mandated peeing into a cup. Involving and closely observed, the result is anything but preachy.