- Running time:
- 114 minutes
- Vera Farmiga -
- Joshua Leonard -
- John Hawkes -
- Dagmara Dominczyk -
- Norbert Leo Butz -
Faith and family form the backbone of Corinne (played by Vera Farmiga as an adult and by her sister, Taissa, as a youngster), a Midwestern wife and mother searching for spiritual meaning within a restrictive religious community. As hippie youngsters, Corinne and her husband (Joshua Leonard)—along with their newborn baby—are nearly killed in a freak bus accident, culminating in a spiritual epiphany that impels them to join a secluded Christian commune governed by strict norms and doctrines. When Corinne starts to question those, a true spiritual awakening happens, leading her to re-evaluate her place in the commune, and religion's place in her life.
The buzz: Farmiga has built a solid rep as an incisive actress with an eye for compelling projects. She co-starred in Martin Scorsese's 2006 Oscar winner "The Departed," and four years later snagged her own Oscar nomination as a frequent-flyer femme fatale in "Up in the Air." She's already appeared in one hit movie this year, "Source Code," and her foray into directing adds another fascinating layer to a career that continues to crest.
The verdict: Farmiga fashions a brazenly confident directorial debut that reveals a mature and seasoned touch. Religious-themed movies often run the risk of becoming preachy or sanctimonious, but Farmiga sidesteps those pitfalls by focusing on Corinne's internal dialogue. In one memorable scene, Corinne sits alone in her parked car, earnestly pleading to The Powers That Be to shed some light on her plight. Why are the sect's women discouraged from speaking up? Why is she growing increasingly distant from her devout husband? Corinne is sensitive, respectful and defiant all at once, and it's a testament to Farmiga's gifts as both actress and director that "Higher Ground" challenges organized religion without actually criticizing it. Corinne may be experiencing a crisis of faith, but it's never a crisis of character. The sturdy supporting cast includes "Winter's Bone" star John Hawkes as Corinne's testy father, and a scene-stealing Dagmara Dominczyk as her saucy fellow congregant Annika. (Keep an eye out for Annika's creative, lusty art work.) With the inquisitiveness of a skeptic but the heart of a believer, Farmiga elevates "Higher Ground" above its potentially pedantic baseline and proves to be an exciting director to watch. Amen to that.
Did you know? "Higher Ground" was a family reunion for Farmiga. Aside from her sister Taissa, she also cast her mom, grandmother and baby son in small roles, and her husband was the film's co-producer and musical director.
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