Caught Requiem for a Dream this weekend at the Cineplex Odeon Dupont, which is easily the worst theater I've ever encountered. Seats about 40, and the screen is the size of the display unit at Best Buy. But the lousy setting didn't detract much, if at all, from this unsettling picture. Allowing for the fact that this has been a terrible year for movies (the best one I've probably seen previously is Boiler Room, which would have been only an ok pic in any other season, [but here's hoping for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, O Brother, Where Art Thou, and Unbreakable]) Requiem for a Dream is far and away the best film I've seen this year.

Technically, Requiem is a masterpiece. Darren Aronofsky pulls out every visual effect and cinematic sleight of hand he previewed in Pi, and then some, to great effect. There are some truly unforgettable moments in this movie, although I must admit that -- very occasionally -- the technical razzmatazz does get in the way.

Storywise, though, I do have some serious issues with the movie. Other than Ellen Burstyn's lonely Brighton Beach widower, the characters are a mite thin. And, alas, in the brutal last act of the film ("Winter"), Requiem contracts an unfortunate - but not quite terminal - case of the P.T.A's (as in Paul Thomas Anderson's - symbolic overkill, contrived plotting for the sake of multicharacter climax, and dense, unrealistic characterizations; for those of you who would rise to the defense of Magnolia's muse, I have four words: "I'm silently judging you." Please.) Plus, I don't want give anything away, but given how Aronofsky layers it on in the harrowing, seamlessly edited climax, you get the sense that heroin addicts are such an unlucky bunch that they probably should be on the lookout for falling meteorites.

Yet, despite these substantial problems, Requiem is a powerful, enthralling film that invites comparison with such downer classics as A Clockwork Orange and Taxi Driver. Two days later, I'm still mulling it over in my head. I'm not sure if I completely enjoyed it, but I do know I must recommend it. And Ellen Burstyn is absolutely brilliant - if she doesn't get the Oscar for this performance, I'm going to stop watching the awards. Update: Ok, that wasn't true.

[First appeared in Ghost in the Machine, 11/20/00.]

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