I remember first watching director Darren Aronofsky's debut picture "Pi", a micro-budgeted picture about a mathematican who slowly loses his mind attempting to solve the mysteries of the stock market, and thinking, this is absolutely a talent look out for. Paired again with ace cinematographer Matthew Libatique, the director has created one of the most visually stunning efforts of the past few years.
The film, based on a novel by Hubert Selby, Jr., follows the decent of a group of drug addicts from bad to worse - and it actually gets much worse. Those who are not able to deal with disturbing imagery might run into problems with this picture, but those who avoid it are missing a stellar film. There's two different stories going on at once - Henry(Jared Leto) and Tyrone(Marlon Wayans) are a couple of low-level drug dealers who have taken things beyond simply getting their fixes, and now find themselves selling fixes to others. Marion(Jennifer Connelly) is Harry's girlfriend, following the two in their decent into drug use. Harry's mother Sara (Ellen Burstyn is an award-winning performance) is retired, and although she spends most of her day hanging out with the other women out front, she begins to feel bad about not fitting into her favorite red dress. The doctor perscribes diet pills - and she falls into addiction as well, as she takes increasingly higher doses to attempt better results, but ultimately failing.
Aronofsky's visual style in "Pi" was nothing short of stunning, using what little budget the film had to effectively take us into the experience of the characters. With a bigger budget for "Requiem", he has expanded upon that visual style that takes us into the downward spiral that these people are experiencing. The combination of marvelous editing by Jay Rabinowitz("Mother Night", "Affliction") and remarkable cinematography by Libatique brings us into what these people must experience - rapid, speedy cutting as the high takes hold and suddenly falls away moments later as the user seeks yet another fix.
The performances throughout the film are nothing short of amazing. The film requires the main four performers to go to extremely raw places - Burstyn is especially heartbreaking as a lonely woman falling into addiction. Connelly, one of the most beautiful of today's actresses, allows herself to fall apart before our eyes. Leto and Wayans also turn in excellent performances, but Wayans is particularly good in his first role that's a very wide departure from his previous comedic efforts. There's even a small role for Christopher McDonald ("Happy Gilmore"), still one of the most joyfully evil actors out there, playing self-help guru Tappy Tibbons, whose show Sara always watches (and whose show the menus on the DVD are designed around).
It's a dark, disturbing portrait of the destruction that drugs can cause, brought to life by performers who are able to go to remarkable places to journey down this spiral. A note - Artisan is releasing the unrated 102 minute edition for this DVD. The film was originally rated NC-17 by the MPAA and Artisan thankfully decided to release the movie unrated into theaters, as well. Be careful, as there is also apparently an edited version of the DVD that does not contain extra features. The Unrated Edition looks similar to the cover image included on this page, but it has "director's cut" at the top, as well as "unrated" on the back.
VIDEO: Artisan presents "Requiem For A Dream" in the film's original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and it is anamorphic. As with the majority of the titles from the studio, I did have a couple of slight concerns, but overall, it's one of their better efforts that I've seen. Sharpness and detail generally seemed very good - some interior scenes appeared very slightly soft, but not distractingly so.
I was pleased to not see any instances of edge enhancement or pixelation, but I did notice a couple of print flaws along the way. Nothing major, but every now and then a small speckle or mark would appear. Certainly not much, and not more than I would expect. A slight amount of grain infrequently appears, although this was likely intended as part of the look of the film
Colors are either natural or very subdued. Obviously, this is a very dark film and the intent was to not have vibrant colors on display. Colors do look accurate, though, with no concerns. Flesh tones also look natural. Although not without a couple of minor flaws, this is definitely one of the best transfers the studio has produced. The layer change is very well placed - I only noticed it the third time through the picture, and even then I wasn't quite sure until I went back to check. It's located at 1:29:21.
SOUND: "Requiem For A Dream" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. Although the early portion of the film mainly has sounds from the front, as the film goes on and becomes more off-center, the sound becomes more agressive, especially during the sequences when the characters are high. During these sequences, sounds spiral around the room, often filling the surrounds, yet without being distracting. It's almost an extention of the visuals during these scenes to make the viewer experience what the character is not only seeing, but hearing. As the director talks about during the commentary, the sound is a very important element of the picture.
What's more amazing is that this is sound designer Brian Emrich's second feature, his first being Aronofsky's low-budget "Pi". It's an excellent effort that really is creative in bringing the viewer into the film - the use of sounds during these scenes could have become distracting, but here they're enveloping and horrifying. The score by Clint Mansell (with haunting string quartets performed by the Kronos Quartet) compliments the film perfectly, as well. Dialogue sounded clear and easily heard, with no concerns.
MENUS:: Menus are designed around the Tappy Tibbons informerical that plays a part in the movie. A long clip comes before the main menu, but thankfully this can be skipped by hitting the menu button. Aronofsky designed these menus, but I don't know, they didn't really strike me as the best way to open the disc.
Commentary: This is a commentary from director Darren Aronofsky, who recorded this track late in 2000. The director has a low-key way of discussing the film, but the director is and was obviously invested emotionally and physically into the making of the film and its story, as evidenced by the amount of information that the director has to share with the viewer. He discusses his enjoyment of the works of novelist Selby and how the story began to take shape and form into a screenplay.
The track doesn't always comment on the scene at hand, but the majority of the commentary does. When he doesn't, he does still share tidbits that are relevant to the picture. Early on, Aronofsky jokes about how fast the movie goes by and not being able to keep up, but he certainly does a fine job here, offering a mix of production information and discussion on what has inspired him as a filmmaker. Definitely worth a listen.
Commentary: This is a commentary from cinematographer Matthew Libatique. Although some information is repeated again during this track, Libatique also has a very good deal of tidbits to contribute, since the film is made up of so many stunning visual sequences. As such, the track does get a little bit technical at times, but not extremely so. Personally, I found it very interesting as the cinematographer energetically discusses his craft and tricks of the trade, but I could see where others might find the more general director's track a more engaging listen.
Making Of: This is a 35 minute "making of" that is literally a "making of". Instead of offering interviews and clips, a member of the crew covered some of the filming and production work with a camera. Aronofsky provides narration for some moments of the documentary to clarify what's going on. It's a fairly interesting effort, mainly showing a first-hand look at how some of the more impressive effects and visuals were done. Last, but not least, the documentary focuses on the film's sound being mixed at the famous Skywalker Ranch.
Deleted Scenes: There are 9 deleted scenes presented in rough form. The scenes are very short and some are just very basic snippets (the first 5 make up a scene that was cut out from the movie), but there are a couple here that are at least somewhat interesting and worth watching. There's also a very funny one with Marlon Wayans imitating infamous "Star Wars" character Jar Jar Binks. Optional commentary from director Aronofsky is also available.
Anatomy Of A Scene: This is a more traditional 5 1/2 minute "making of" featurette, where the director is interviewed, chatting about both the story and the film's visual style.
Trailers/TV/Web: The film's trailer and teaser trailer (2.0 audio) and two TV spots, as well as images from the website.
Memories, Dreams and Addictions: Actress Ellen Burstyn interviews novelist Herbert Selby, Jr in this featurette. He discusses his life and the obstacles that he has gone through in life. The review runs just under 20 minutes.
Also: Cast/crew bios, production notes.
Final Thoughts: One of the darkest, most disturbing (but also one of the most powerful and well-acted) features I've seen in quite a while, "Reqiuem For A Dream" may not be for all audiences, but those who audiences, but those who choose to see it will find something quite haunting and impressive. Artisan's DVD provides very good audio/video quality and a solid helping of extras. Recommended.
The Film ****
Video 94/A = (376/400 possible points)
Audio: 93/A = (372/400 possible points)
Extras: 92/A = (276/300 possible points)
Menus: 85/B = (170/200 possible points)
Value: 90/A- = (270/300 possible points)
FILM GRADE: ****
DVD GRADE: A