Cast: Samantha Morton, Aaron Paul, Helen Hunt, Corey Stoll, rashida Jones, Alice Eve, Maggie Grace, Ben McKenzie, Richard Schiff, Marley Shelton and Ben McKenzie.
Writers: Steven Bernstein, Adam Bernstein and Michael Moss.
Director: Steven Bernstein.
Although some detractors will single out it’s bare-bones storytelling style as a flaw, there is something ingratiatingly refreshing about the narrative frankness of Decoding Annie Parker. Debutant director Steven Bernstein’s two-tiered heartfelt drama defies its Movie-of-the-Week premise with an integrity all too rare in modern cinema.
Reflecting the decades in which the story unfolds, the assured narrative beats captured by Bernstein recall the thoughtful, expertly rendered, small-scale dramas (such as Resurrection with Ellen Burstyn or Testament with Jane Alexander) that were once produced by studios and shown by major theatrical chains. A journeyman cinematographer who has lensed Alfonso Cuaron’s Like Water for Chocolate, Charlize Theron’s Oscar turn in Monster and Adam Sandler’s The Waterboy, amongst many others, Bernstein refuses to overstate his visuals, instead settling on a matter-of-fact but deeply engaging real-world aesthetic.
Annie Parker (a wonderful Samantha Morton) comes from a family whose women have suffered the horrors of breast cancer for many generations. In gruelling scenes, she fights her own battles against the disease; between bouts, she seeks out reasons why the affliction impacts her bloodline while tending to her free-spirited, man-child husband (Aaron Paul) and the life they have created.
Concurrently, Bernstien tracks the medical team led by Dr Mary-Claire King (Helen Hunt), who is determined to find a link of any kind that will shed light on the moribund, bureaucratic state of cancer study. The film seamlessly shifts between Annie’s struggles and the medico detective work of the research team, coalescing decades of real-life developments into a smooth, compelling retelling of events.
The director coaxes wonderful support turns out of a cast that goes on forever - Alice Eve, Ben McKenzie, Rashida Jones, Marley Shelton, Maggie Grace, Bradley Whitford, Richard Schiff, Bob Gunton, the great Corey Stoll – all of whom must have worked below-scale to help get what is clearly a labour of love to the screen. There’s a passion to tell this story with an understated urgency and profound empathy that can be felt in every frame of this terrific film.
For further information on all aspects of breast cancer, follow these links:
Australia: National Breast Cancer Foundation
United States of America: Breast Cancer Research Foundation
United Kingdom: Cancer Research UK
France: International Agency for Research on Cancer