Combustible Celluloid
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With: Brit Marling, Christopher Denham, Nicole Vicius, Davenia McFadden, Kandice Stroh, Richard Wharton, Christy Meyers, Alvin Lam, Constance Wu, Matthew Carey, Jacob Price, David Haley, James Urbaniak, Annie O'Donnell, Laura Leyva
Written by: Brit Marling, Zal Batmanglij
Directed by: Zal Batmanglij
MPAA Rating: R for language including some sexual references, and brief drug use
Running Time: 85
Date: 01/24/2011

Sound of My Voice (2012)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Mature Allure

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In Sound of My Voice, Brit Marling makes an unforgettable entrance, ropes of blonde hair spilling out from under a white hood, and an oxygen tank plugged into her nose. She mesmerizes everyone in the room, and then tops it with a stunning declaration. She plays Maggie, the leader of a cult-like organization. Whether Maggie is a dangerous crackpot or the real thing, the movie leaves open to interpretation.

Even better than that entrance is a scene with Peter (Christopher Denham), a young man, who, with his girlfriend Lorna (Nicole Vicius), has infiltrated Maggie's organization hoping to make a documentary about cults. Peter refuses to participate in a "cleansing" ritual -- for reasons practical as well as personal -- and Maggie coaxes him. She touches her forehead to his and, after a series of well-placed questions and statements, has Peter cracked open like a coconut, blubbering and purging with the best of them.

What's even more impressive is the fact that Marling co-wrote the screenplay (with director Zal Batmanglij), and created this character for herself. Not only is Maggie not a typical "pretty girl" -- she's a grown-up with mystery and depth -- but she also has powerful, showy moments that many actors wait years for a chance at. But then, when it comes down to it, Marling actually has the raw skill and charisma to play the role, and to turn in one of the great performances so far this year.

Additionally, other characters talk about her, heightening her allure. After Peter's opening up, Lorna talks about Maggie as if she has superpowers; she's not only pretty, but she reaches Peter in ways that Lorna cannot.

Aside from this great character, Marling and Batmanglij have also whipped up a tantalizing mystery story, broken up into ten "chapters" and sometimes launching into a puzzling scene that is, for the moment, totally unconnected. Almost like a "B" movie, Sound of My Voice embraces its grayish, washed-out, low-budget video look. Batmanglij paces the movie quickly, paying it off with a nifty zinger, and closing up shop before anyone has a chance to catch his or her breath.

We're left with the presence of Marling, who last year wrote and played another strong character, in Another Earth. She was almost totally the opposite: small, aching, thoughtful. As regular Hollywood casting relies more on looks and marketing, and less on talent and personality, Marling is to be admired for doing something about it.

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