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Requiem For A Dream

Set in the hard and unforgiving world of back-street New York, Requiem for a Dream is a harrowing parable that tells the parallel stories of Sara (Ellen Burstyn), a lonely overweight widow, and her aimless son Harry (Jared Leto). At the prospect of appearing on her favorite TV game show, Sara begins a dangerous diet regimen. Meanwhile, Harry along with his buddy Tyrone (Marlon Wayans) and girlfriend Marion (Jennifer Connelly) pass the time taking drugs and planning ways to score enough to become small-time dealers. Each character eventually descends into his or her own delusions and comes to recognize that his/her dreams can easily turn into nightmares.

Ellen Burstyn delivers an Oscar worthy performance. One of America's best actresses, Burstyn has spent a great deal of the last two decades concentrating on her work with The Actors Studio or relegated to playing supporting parts in generally forgettable movies. Here, she creates a memorable portrait of an aging woman, all but forgotten by society, who is convinced that being a contestant on her favorite TV game show will solve all her problems.

As her heroin-abusing son, Jared Leto does some of his best screen work. In other roles, he has often seemed lightweight and miscast. Downplaying his heartthrob looks and delving into the psyche of an addict, the actor offers a full-bodied characterization. Comedian Marlon Wayans displays heretofore untapped dramatic capabilities as his cohort in a scheme to score a shipment of drugs to sell for the profits. In the underdeveloped role of Leto's fashion designer girlfriend, Jennifer Connelly does what she can, ultimately proving heartbreaking as she too succumbs to the dark side of her aspirations.

Darren Aronofsky's second feature film is an adaptation of Hubert Selby Jr.'s novel. As in his debut feature Pi, Aronofsky displays a stunning visual style, utilizing recurring motifs and sound effects. The nature of the material, however, is extremely downbeat and depressing and his unflinching approach may leave viewers dissatisfied. Originally rated NC-17 for its inclusion of an orgy, its graphic depiction of drug use and its dark, disturbing themes, Requiem for a Dream is being released by Artisan Entertainment without an MPAA rating.

This harrowing look at the perils of addiction -- whether it be food, television, fame, sex, or drugs and alcohol -- has to rank as one of the year's most genuinely disturbing films.