Jessica Biel shines as Cora Tannetti in USA Network's 'The Sinner'

From dancing in her bedroom in a purple nightwear to becoming a murder in broad daylight, Jessica Biel has lived through those lives like they were all a part of her own.


                            Jessica Biel shines as Cora Tannetti in USA Network's 'The Sinner'

Jessica Biel's idea of a perfect celebration for winning an Emmy involves drinking champagne, binge-watching on Netflix, and spending time with her three-year-old son, Silas Randall Timberlake. The 'Total Recall' star bagged an Emmy nomination in the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie category for her role in USA Network's psychological thriller series 'The Sinner.' Jessica Biel, so far, has had less of the limelight in comparison to her contemporaries but now has it all over her finally because of the off-grid role that she executed in 'The Sinner.'

'The Sinner,' which is based on the novel of the same by German author  Petra Hammesfahr delves deep into the mind of a woman who kills a man on the beach in cold-blood right in front of her husband and son. However, unlike other crime stories which usually like to utilize the criminal's psychology in order to find out his/her ways of delivering a crime, 'The Sinner' tries to find out the motive behind the crime.

Why would a perfectly functioning middle-aged wife who has a beautiful son and a loving husband murder a stranger in broad daylight? Even if she has a motive, then why can't she remember it? Why is it so that every time the song 'Huggin n Kissin' plays she violently attacks the first person near her? But most of all, why would she lie about a memory? Does she REALLY not remember anything?

 

'The Sinner' sees a young mother kill a stranger in broad daylight in front of her son. (IMDb)
'The Sinner' sees a young mother kill a stranger in broad daylight in front of her son. (IMDb)

These are some questions that have been bothering detective Harry Ambrose (played by the veteran actor Bill Pullman), ever since he was handed over the case of Cora Tannetti (Jessica Beil). On the other hand, Ambrose's personal life is filled with its own mysteries- a failing marriage and his relationship with the dominatrix Sharon (played by Meredith Holzman). He, then, sets out on the quest to dig deep into Cora's memories of a past that has been erased thanks to a heroin overdose.

He uncovers one truth at a time in each episode, and Cora follows suit the half-smiling detective who is probably her last chance to be able to answer the one question- Why?

Meanwhile, both the characters- Ambrose and Cora- took a heavy personal toll on the respective actors. Biel went through a lot of PTSD research to fully understand what happens when the trauma is left incomplete. In an interview with Indie Wire, Biel had mentioned, "My face was always scrunched up. I was like, ‘I don’t know anything. I don’t get it...We did that for so long that when we were able to connect in a new way, and I was able to trust his character and go along and really try hard to find the answers together, oh my god, it was the best. It was so nice. It felt so good not have to be in that state anymore. I finally didn’t have to be confused anymore.”

Harry Ambrose was Cora's last chance to find out the memory that has changed her life forever. (IMDb)
Harry Ambrose was Cora's last chance to find out the memory that has changed her life forever. (IMDb)

 

While playing Cora, Biel struggled to understand - why would a woman demotivate herself to such an extent that she refuses to plead not guilty at the court? Even in certain scenes that almost seem like a dream sequence, Cora is seen getting glimpses of her sister Phoebe (played by Nadia Alexander), who was born with a cheese for a heart while she visualizes certain tiny details about that one fateful night which changed her life forever. Biel's confused expression and certain moments of tender smiles brought out Cora's guilt of being a failure as an elder sister and her relief for being under the protection of her husband Mason Tannetti (played by Christopher Abbott).

Jessica Biel's career has pretty much flown under the radar over past few years until she started off in what would be known to be one of television's most toxic shows, '7th Heaven.' In the iconic family drama series, Biel set off her acting debut as Mary Camden, the charming second daughter in a family of seven and she was soon recognized as the favorite one in the Camden family by the audience. Of course, no one can forget her quirky dance in the purple nightwear! The show which started in 1996 was Biel's breakthrough following which the actress soon fixed her position as an A-listed star for her role as the 14-year-old Casey Jackson alongside the Golden-Globe winning actor Peter Fonda in the 1997 movie 'Ulee's Gold.'

 

'Ulee's Gold' saw Jessica Biel's rise in the list of A-listed actors. (IMDb)
'Ulee's Gold' saw Jessica Biel's rise in the list of A-listed actors. (IMDb)

The role marked a turn in Biel's career as she began appearing in some of the most noted films like Noel Coward's adaptation of 'Easy Virtue.' The teenager who had rebelled during '7th Heaven' by dying her hair blonde as an act of defiance against playing anymore girl-next-door roles came out shining in Coward's film where she not only acted but also demonstrated the full strength of her vocal chords when she sang the song 'Mad About the Boy' from the movie's soundtrack. Biel's multi-faceted talents soon came to work when she got to showcase her gymnastic skills as a devastating pole dancer in her lesser known movie 'Powder Blue' (2009). As a stripper and a single mother named Rose-Johnny, she was steaming hot as a spectacular dancer pushing the edge of her versatility.

Watch Biel's cover of 'Mad About the Boy' below:

As the years went by, Biel took on roles that most actresses take up at least at least at some point in their career. She began playing roles of noisy, high-pitched chicks in rom-coms, and was wondering about in Hollywood before taking up projects like 'I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry,' 'Valentine's Day,' and the absolutely unnecessary remake of 'Total Recall.' Although Biel's characters have been on the marginal ends of every script, it was clear that she just needed one good script in hand. Probably that was placed as a gift in her hands when she enacted the role of an elder sister in the 2015 movie 'Bleeding Heart'. Probably it came in the face of her role as an elder sister in 2015 movie 'Bleeding Heart.' The movie was not critically acclaimed, but it certainly paved the way for Biel to try her hands on characters who were nowhere close to her real-life persona.

In an interview with Golderby, Biel mockingly said, "I feel as if I have aged about 20 years...My poor skin, I feel as if I may be dehydrated forever from crying so much. It was just so emotionally exhausting on all levels.” Biel's role in 'The Sinner' felt as though the character took over the actor. It was one of those rare instances when the actor is so convincing that the actual person behind the lens goes missing and the well-structured character who is simply the result of someone's idea takes over completely. Biel probably had some compassion for Cora as the only thing the two women had in common was their motherhood. 

Biel carried around Cora like she was a part of her. (IMDb)
Biel carried around Cora like she was a part of her. (IMDb)

 

Although Biel denied facing any kind of violence or torture in real life, it was a visual treat to see her bring Cora's character to near perfection on screen. Biel carried around Cora as if it were a part of her being. With Pullman's uncomforting gentleness as Ambrose, Biel knew exactly how much of Cora's personality should be let out to the detective and what part needed to be confined. While reading Hammesfahr's book, Biel could never make out the twists and turns in the plot. Neither could she fathom Cora's disturbed sense of memory, and if the character was speaking the truth at all. In spite of her own struggle of empathizing with a character as grey as Cora, Biel not only managed to bring justice to the character but surpassed herself in delivering the performance. 

An actor's credibility doesn't necessarily lie in his/her dominance on screen but mostly on the actor's maturity to give the other characters space to grow. Biel and Nadia put up a perfect chemistry of sisterhood on screen, as both portrayed two characters who have been clinging on to each other for all their lives. Phoebe's weak heart has never allowed her to step out of the house, she sees the world through Cora, she experiences sensations through Cora, and she plans on running away to Florida from their orthodox mother along with Cora. It is, therefore, not a big surprise when Phoebe has her first kiss with Cora. 

 

Cora and Phoebe saw the world through each other's eyes. (IMDb)
Cora and Phoebe saw the world through each other's eyes. (IMDb)

Although the scene might have been an uncomfortable one for the two actors to deliver, Biel's unadulterated performance brought out the genuine care and love that two sisters share. While some might term their relation as incest, Cora and Phoebe have actually played as foils to each other. Phoebe is weak in the heart, but her mind and spirit are constantly alive; Cora has a healthy body, but her mind and spirit have been crushed down to the ground through all the emotional abuse that she has gone through. Biel's exceptional performance gave the scene its moral virtue. It projected a sister who was obligated to perform incest out of sheer love for her younger sister who has never lived the years of her youth. Biel's confused face and her hesitation to put her hands underneath her sister's blouse elevated the scene from being just another uncomfortable story about siblings falling in love. 

'The Sinner' has probably seen the best of Jessica Biel so far. Certainly, she will be missed in Season 2 which will tell the story about why a young boy would kill his parents in cold blood, yet there are promises of Biel returning as Cora for the second season. Probably in the next season, Cora will be seen in a much more stable state but when it comes to 'The Sinner' no one really knows what is lying just around the corner.   

Watch the trailer for 'The Sinner: Season 2' below:

 

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