Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Vera Farmiga in Running Scared

33 year old Vera Farmiga first burst onto the scene last year, with a Los Angeles Film Critics Association victory for her much lauded turn in indie hit Down to the Bone. Though hardly a breakthrough of the most epic proportions, Farmiga, whose early credits feature scattered American TV appearances, has found herself involved heavily in this year's calendar, working with legendary directors Anthony Minghella (in Breaking and Entering) and Martin Scorsese (in The Departed). Both of these appearances have earned her Oscar buzz, and though she still has a very longshot opportunity of a nomination for her feisty Departed turn, it's another '06 performance of hers that I can't help but find the most exhilarating.

The first cinema release of the year I went to see was Running Scared. Let the record show I had no intention of going to see this film when I entered the cinema. You know what it's like with multiplexes. You come at the wrong time, you have to make do. It's not often I'm surprised by a film I'm really only going to see to pass the time, and this was no exception. Running Scared, an action thriller, starring the cute but ever-vapid Paul Walker, and the equally vapid but twice as annoying Cameron Bright, is one of those films that really only exists to allow Walker his annual exercise as a gun-wielding hero. This is perhaps forgivable. What isn't forgivable is its incessant deployment of cliches in almost every scene that supposedly serves to remind us of what a harsh world we live in.

Where Farmiga comes into the debacle is as Walker's wife Teresa, and mother to his son, who is drawn into the corrupt world of crime when her husband gets into a sticky situation. Much of her early appearances in the film serve to build the relationship between her and Walker as a loving one, so that we can care when it starts to unravel a little later on. Her subtle beauty in these scenes evident, she wades in and out of rationality with a knowing ease, etching the characters thoughts and concerns; her matriarchal desperation to keep her family from danger, the everyday struggles of a less fortunate family. She has the weight of the world on her shoulders, and is a much more convincing protagonist than leading man Walker.

The thing about Vera is: whether it be a junkie (Down to the Bone), psychologist (Departed), hooker (Breaking and Entering), or familiar wronged wife role she decides to dig her claws into, Farmiga's on-screen presence commands empathy. Even in the most extreme of situations, through frustratingly amoral circumstances and serious character flaws, she is a strong, incandescent embodiment of 21st century womanhood. And for me, Farmiga's stardom is set in stone when she is asked to sell a potentially horrendous cheap, cliche-ridden scene regarding paedofilia. You believe every second of her grapple with crime. Her nervous dive into the barrel-scraping underground of criminality utterly convincing, Teresa's moral battle is stunningly presented. Farmiga's fantastic knowledge of the character allows her to give the audience a window into the mind of a woman drifting away from logic into instinct. She bursts onto the scene a completely different woman to the one that exits the scene, stripped to the bare bones by the cruelty of the world and forced to come to a resolution nobody can contemplate. Gripping to the bitter end it's the best-acted scene of the year, a believeaby raw and eminently powerful portrayal of human nature, and her ability to make the five-minute rollercoaster believeable is a titanic achievement.

I love you Vera.


J.J. said...


Catherine Cantieri said...

Whoa... I might actually have to seek out a Paul Walker movie. This is new territory for me, and I'm a little scared. But I've loved everything I've seen Farmiga do, so I guess I'll have to bite the bullet ... and maybe fast-forward through the non-Farmiga scenes. Great post!

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