07/02/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

All Hail Maria Bello in Downloading Nancy

Tough women, tortured women, damaged women: Maria Bello conveys so much in these roles that it's oddly pleasurable to watch her work in the hauntingly painful, strangely erotic Downloading Nancy.

I say oddly because, at heart, this film by Johan Renck is about a woman in emotional agony, desperately seeking release. Bello plays her as someone who is white-knuckling her way through life, hiding her shame and distrusting anything positive that might come her way. It's a performance both naked and nuanced, as a character who is like a live wire, shocking the men in her life into desperate action or catatonic inertia.

Nancy is a lifelong victim: of damaging sexual abuse as a child, then of a chilly, withholding husband as an adult. Fed up with her husband Albert (Rufus Sewell) and his preoccupation with the golf technology that has made him wealthy, Nancy escapes him through the Internet.

There she meets Louis (Jason Patric), who becomes her secret pen pal and eventually agrees to host her if she visits him in Baltimore. But Nancy, who copes with her problems by cutting herself, isn't looking for a lover. She wants Louis to make love to her - and then kill her.

Renck tells his story in jigsaw fashion, hop-scotching through time between Louis and Nancy's rendezvous (and Albert's befuddled response to her disappearance) and earlier times that drove Nancy to this act.

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