Movie Review: Martha Marcy May Marlene

Since it debuted at Sundance last winter, Martha Marcy May Marlene has been high on my ‘to see’ list.  It has gotten rave reviews for its star, Elizabeth Olsen, as well as John Hawkes and its newbie director, Sean Durkin.  It was also produced by Ted Hope – an indie film legend who has over 60 films to his credit, most of which are among the best indies of all time.

Everything about Martha Marcy May Marlene is subtle.  From the script, to the acting, to the score, to the cinematography and to the editing. Beautifully shot, with a languid pace, this film just seems to wash over you… the same way Olsen’s Martha does. She’s captivating and guarded at the same time.  You find yourself unable to look away from her, desperately wanting to know what is going on in her head the entire time.  From the first frame she shows up on right until the film cuts to black at the end.  She’s mesmerizing.  The last time an actor propelled onto the scene with such a performance was Carey Mulligan’s in An Education. And I believe Mulligan has delivered on that promise so far.  I can only hope Olsen makes challenging choices and continues down a similar path.

Everyone in the film was good.  John Hawkes wasn’t as physically menacing as Tear Drop from WInter’s Bone, but he was menacing in a completely different way.  In fact, I wasn’t sure if he was going to snap at any point.  His performance was completely unnerving and he is establishing himself as the premiere character actor working in indie films today.  Something John C. Reilly used to be the king of until he became too big.  Sarah Paulson is fine as the sister, Hugh Dancy plays the brother-in-law well (when it could have been over-the-top) and the kids at the commune all felt so real.  I could have watched a movie on any of their lives.

I’m very interested to see what Sean Durkin does next.  It’s refreshing to see such confidence in a first time filmmaker.  And he doesn’t purport to want a career doing studio assignments, which means we may continue to get challenging films from him.

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