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Losing ground

Profile image for By Boo Allen / Film Critic
By Boo Allen / Film Critic

Religious organizations have a short list of complaints when they confront the film industry: The faithful are either ignored altogether, or when cameras turn their way, they're mocked or ridiculed.

In her first attempt at directing, Vera Farmiga errs - or sins if you prefer - not because she ignores or mocks. Instead, the Oscar-nominated actress falters in her directorial debut for another reason: Higher Ground is deadly boring.

Listed on wimgo Movies under Drama

Farmiga bases her film on the memoir from Carolyn Briggs, who shares screenwriting credits. Farmiga wrestles with the story from the start, clumsily chronicling the life of Corrine, played by Farmiga as an adult and by her sister (Taissa Farmiga) as the younger Corrine.

When young, Corrine marries Ethan (Joshua Leonard) after a traumatic event that seems to propel both of them into a deep commitment to their faith. They continue this intensity into adulthood.

Together, they have three children and share their beliefs in a strict fundamentalist church. Corrine experiences several traumas and disappointments over the years, until, finally, she and Ethan split despite the constant pressure from the church to stay together.

As director, Farmiga plunges straight ahead, often picking up plotlines and dropping them without explanation or background. When she settles on a particular time frame, her scenes linger as if the actors are struggling to improvise.

Because of this jerky approach, Higher Ground never flows but lurches along. It never gives us time to connect with the characters or with the thin story. Farmiga the director tepidly approaches taking either a condemnatory perspective or a realistic one, and neither method persuades.

In other words, the film has no point. It neither condemns, nor celebrates, nor reveals anything special about living one's faith.

Farmiga has placed noted stage actors Donna Murphy and Bill Irwin with screen notables John Hawkes, Joshua Leonard, and others. As an actor, it seems Farmiga might have handled her cast better. They, for the most part, often appear to be wandering around in search of meaning, or, worse, direction.

BOO ALLEN is an award-winning film critic for the Denton Record-Chronicle. MOVIE RATING

Higher Ground

* 1/2

Rated R, 109 minutes.

Opens Friday at the Angelika Dallas.