Higher Ground

29 Sep

Title: Higher Ground
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Vera Farmiga
Writers: Carolyn S. Briggs and Tim Metcalfe, based on the memoir by Ms. Briggs
Starring: 
Vera Farmiga, Donna Murphy, John Hawkes, Taissa, Farmiga, Joshua Leonard, Nina Arianda, Dagmara Dominczyk, Bill Irwin
MPAA Rating: 
R, some language and sexual content
Runtime: 
109 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
5.6
Rotten Tomatoes: 
78%

 

I’m a big Vera Farmiga fan, I really think she’s amazingly talented and beautiful and can just really light up a screen with her performances. The first time I saw her work, was in Martin Scorsese’s The Departed five years ago, and since then I have really been paying attention, obviously going back to see her stunning turn in Debra Granik’s Down to the Bone from 2004, and then seeing the stuff she has done since, which has included an Oscar-nominated turn in Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air (which was my favorite film of 2009) and then another solid performance in this year’s Source Code from Duncan Jones (which stands as my 13th favorite film of the year to date). She has some potentially interesting stuff in the pipeline, too: Goats, a comedy with Ty Burrell and Keri Russell; Safe House, with Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds; Closer to the Moon, about a bank heist pulled off by robbers convinced they were shooting a film; The Locals, with Alan Arkin and Shirley MacLaine; and A View from the Bridge, an adaptation of the Arthur Miller play.

But none of those projects, past or present, has her as involved as she was on Higher Ground. This is after all, her directing debut, of a film in which she also stars, and as such I was very curious to see how she did behind the cameras while also having to be in front of them. And boy did she succeed tremendously, not only crafting a really remarkable film, but also turning out another one of her really great performances. It’s all in those eyes of her, really, eyes that are of a color that’s hard to describe with human words and hard to think about without a bit of drool dripping from your lower lip, they are the eyes movie stars were once made of, and the eyes that in all of Ms. Farmiga’s films have had the ability to make you think both that you want her close to you at all times and also that you should maybe keep a bit of your distance. That’s the sort of actress she is, the one that can convey the most good-natured of people, but always leave room for some kind of mischief in them.

Higher Ground is a film that deals with Christianity, about a woman who falls in an out of it, and it’s not a film that puts any sort of judgement on those decisions, it never once really goes to suggest whether it’s good or bad, it just says that those decisions the character makes here are the decisions she has to make at the time she’s making them, and it works by saying that. It works because so many of the films we see today have no real sort of spiritual connection, which is good, don’t get me wrong, but when they do go on ahead and make a statement about religion or the lack thereof it always seems to be tinged with some sort of overly-simplified view of them that tends to veer wholeheartedly towards one direction of judgement or the other. And then there are the films that do sort of kind of pose themselves as super faith-based and that do tackle religious topics straight-on, but those always seems to polarize the believers and supporters they don’t agree with. Higher Ground is a different kind of film in so much as it also deals with faith, but without making some sort of pronunciation about it, just looking at it as choices one can make for their own reasons and that’s that.

The woman we follow through this journey through her faith is Corinne, who we see as a child, as a young woman in her early twenties and as an adult at around forty, and we see the changes of beliefs she makes through it all, and how those changes were activated by and only brought forth even more changes for her. It’s not a masterful film by any means, but it’s just a very good one because it never makes some sort of of hugely critical viewpoint of anyone, believers are just seen as good-natured people with a viewpoint of the world that may be a bit narrow, and sinners are just seen as as people who maybe like drugs and other unholy things, and even though it may reach into satire territory sometimes during these examinations, for the most part it just works really well thanks to a keen eye from Ms. Farmiga. In other movies many of the characters here would be seen as sort of crazy people or comic relief opportunities for a scene or two, in here they get to be more fleshed out and we get a chance to see them for who they really are, a true achievement in today’s films about faith.

I won’t really go ahead and delve into plot here, that’s for you to do when you watch the film (which I really recommend you do), just be sure that it’s great stuff to see Corinne handle her faith and beliefs, there are opinions and sadness and everything you can really expect in a film like this, but without the stereotypes that usually abound them. And this is a really cool turn for Mr. Farmiga to take in her career, she’s just a very good actress who I think, after seeing this one, I can be sure to say that we can follow in any direction she wants to take, because her judgement about them seems to be just seriously spot-on, and the fact that she has now shown that she can direct this good and something so daring and off-kilter for her only adds to her talents.

Grade: A-

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