Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #154
Number of Views: Two
Release Date: April 22, 2005
Sub-Genre: Crime Drama
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 104 minutes
Director: Matt Farnsworth
Producers: Matt Farnsworth, Diane Foster
Screenplay: Matt Farnsworth
Special Effects: Jor Van Kline
Cinematography: John Houghton, Andrew Parke
Score: Elia Cmiral
Editing: Robert Brown
Studio: Full Fathom 5 Productions
Distributor: Koch Vision (US)
Stars: Matt Farnsworth, Diane Foster, John Savage, Rosanna Arquette, Michael T Weiss, David Backus, Amanda Tepe, William Wayne, Mickey Jones, John Tracy, Muse Watson, David Basila
Suggested Audio Hit
The Cranberries “Zombie”
Fuck meth man. For anyone unfamiliar or emerging from underneath a rock, methamphetamine devastates by nature and prompts a laundry list of physical effects from dizziness, twitching, blurred vision, heartbeat irregularities, tremors and pallor to “meth mouth” which can cause the teeth to fall straight out of your face. It ain’t pretty. Meth addiction has long been a huge thorn in the side of many small Midwestern towns in the United States, never more so than during the nineties. It struck a nerve with young auteur Matt Farnsworth and his fellow Producer and co-star Diane Foster to such an extent that they undertook something of a crusade against the narcotic beginning in 2003 with their raw footage documentary Poor Man’s Dope and following three years later with Dying For Meth. Sandwiched in-between came Iowa, a full-length feature highlighting the problem on a far more intimate scale and focusing on the devastating effect it has on the lives of a small group of mid-westerners.
Iowa focuses ostensibly on local boy Esper Harte (Farnsworth) and his loyal girlfriend Donna Huffman (Foster) who, upon sampling some of his father’s stash after his death, decide to go into the batch business, learning how to cook their own meth in an attempt to make some quick cash and start a life together. Along with his emotionally vulnerable lifelong buddy Nick (David Backus) and cock (and pussy) hungry Dominique (Amanda Tepe) they grab large handfuls of ingredients and set to work on production.
Things start out swimmingly for the young lovers and Iowa charts their highs long before exposing the cavernous lows as they spiral deeper into dependency and things take a turn for the tragic. All the while they have to contend with Esper’s slattern mom (Rosanna Arquette) and her sadistic lover and local parole officer Larry (Michael T. Wiess) who hatch a fiendish plot to rid the couple of the $200k inheritance left by his late father. In addition, Donna’s reticent father Irv (John Savage) finds it increasingly difficult to give the pair his blessing as things begin to turn awry for the lovers and they become stooped in a dizzying narcotic-fueled haze.
Iowa is Farnsworth’s first full-length feature and pre-dates his iconic The Orphan Killer by six years, showing his early promise as an auteur through the trifecta of writing, directing and acting. His film treads boards with Darren Aronofsky’s cardinal Requiem For A Dream and Jonas Åkerlund’s masterfully twitchy 2002 film Spun, not least in its stylized approach and quick-cut editing which proceeds to giving that edgy feel, replicating the tweak majestically. Andrew Parke’s ambrosial cinematography perfectly compliments proceedings and Farnsworth shows plentiful flair behind the lens, as he did once again with TOK. He procured the talents of screen greats Savage and Arquette for his labor of love and both give their usual unimpeachable performances. In addition, Weiss is exquisitely cast as the muculent Larry. However, the young cast actually outshine their big-name counterparts with Backus supplying a paralyzing turn as Nick and real-life spouse Foster absolutely mesmerizing as always, and unflinchingly lion-hearted to boot. It is Farnsworth who acts as linchpin, giving an astonishing account of himself as dreamer Harte.
I simply could not take my eyes off him for a picosecond. He adds an almost hypnotic nonchalance to his character and is aided by ocean blue peepers which wash away our defenses with their high-tide, prompting us to clamor for his safe-keeping. Moreover, in one harrowing scene, he illustrates the grief of personal loss with startling effect and our hearts shatter in our chest cages, such is the authenticity on exhibit. It is evident in every scene that this topic touched him intimately and he did plenty of legwork so as to give an accurate depiction of the escalating madness of meth addiction.
Iowa captures the zeitgeist of small town rural life commendably whilst telling a story which has far wider appeal. It flinches not from showing the horrors of meth use, particularly in a potent scene involving Nick and a horrifying case of ‘meth mouth’ which marauds us with stark imagery of an unborn fetus and culminates in heartbreak, tearing the still-beating hearts from our chests and holding it in its bloodied hands. The film caused a veritable cloudburst when originally screened at the Tribeca Film Festival and still remains as relevant several years later. Farnsworth and Foster have gone on since to birth The Orphan Killer and, with work set to commence soon on the sequel, have converted all their dedication into something truly masterful. It is vital however, to not forget one’s roots and they indoctrinate us here with a small but certainly not insignificant account of the desolation of meth abuse.
It stands alongside works such as Neil Armfield’s Candy and Harold Becker’s The Boost in portraying the slipping rationale of young minds voodooed by the grip of hard drugs and the devastation which ensues once it tightens its hold. Does it fill us with optimism? Yes and no actually. It is a bleak cautionary tale and makes no bones of this. However, at its very core lies an intimate tale of two young people very much in love and the lengths they will go to make a better life for themselves. The two leads crackle with chemistry throughout and are fiercely and unflinchingly devoted to one another, regardless of any unscrupulous buzz felt or lines blurred. Which makes it all the more distressing when Iowa careers towards its heart-shattering conclusion, echoing Carlito’s Way and tearing the rug from beneath us where we stand. Ultimately, as with Foster in The Orphan Killer, it is Farnsworth who resonates strongest, his performance is pitch-perfect and you are never in any doubt just to just how much he wanted his story to be told. He takes the opportunity with relish and the fact that he effortlessly steals scenes from such indisputable screen behemoths as John Savage and Rosanna Arquette, showcases admirably both his commitment to exposing the facts and his extensive ability on both sides of the camera.
Iowa is now quite rightly used as a valuable educational tool and has amassed a large cult following over the past nine years. If TOK symbolizes the incandescent future ahead for both Farnsworth and Foster, then this shows grass-roots film-making at its very best. It’s downbeat for sure and will reach in and twist your heart in its very cavity but, more critically, will leave you with unwavering hope and the desire to persist with your dreams. By that token it is a most fundamental piece of indie brilliance which truly deserves to be seen.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For The Grue-Guzzlers: We are talking about Matt Farnsworth, creator of The Orphan Killer which has been banned in both Germany and Australia and he has never been afraid to push the envelope where visceral grue is concerned. Here, it is always secondary and makes its mark through fleeting punctuation rather than flagrant over-use.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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