In the opening scene of Robert Greene's new documentary Actress, a woman in a red party dress and high heels stands before a carefully lit kitchen sink, washing and drying dishes in dreamy slow motion. The dramatic lighting and deep color saturation suggest that most empathetic channeler of women's dramatic fantasy Douglas Sirk, while our brunet subject—shown strictly from behind in her cinched-waist dress—recalls the domestic eroticism of Anna Magnani, archetypal housewife of seething passions.

This woman is Brandy Burre, and if her name doesn't immediately ring a bell, her face will for all fans of The Wire, the revered HBO series that for two of its five seasons featured Burre in the role of Terry D'Agostino, the savvy political consultant who engineers Thomas Carcetti's mayoral victory while engaging in slumming-snob sport sex with Detective Jimmy McNulty. She was terrific, and would've been happy to parlay the popularity and art cred of The Wire—which ended in 2008—into a booming career. When we meet her in 2013, she's living in Beacon, New York, where she's raising two young children with her artisanal-beer-making partner, Tim.

"I moved to Beacon. I'm not acting. So this is my creative outlet," says Burre to Greene's camera, which finds her perched in a corner of her kids' playroom. Then, she says it again. Take two: "I moved to Beacon. I'm not acting. So this is my creative outlet." Virtually identical, and the point is clear: Actress is intimate and personal, and it is also a performance.

When I say "Brandy Burre never stops performing in Actress"—which tracks Burre's fledgling efforts to restart her career and reengage with her old creative community—I do not mean it as a mock-diagnosis of any sort of pathology. What Actress does is capture Burre in an array of moments that illuminate the performances we all give as we move through our days—the face-saving phrasings, the harmony-sustaining obfuscations, the laboriously casual name-drops.

Burre's openness before Greene's camera is brave, by which I mean "Other people would be scared to do this." But Greene—whose previous documentary, 2012's Fake It So Real, chronicled American independent wrestling—treats any and all of Burre's confessional urges as just another color in his palette. Greene takes a strong stylistic hand in Actress, stretching his visuals out in slow motion over evocative musical soundtracks. The film's major plot twist is communicated not by any showcase scene but through a series of impressions: a long shot of Burre on a New York City pier in a casual embrace with a man who is not her partner; the arrival of a text message that makes Burre's face light up with private delight; and Burre's on-camera recounting of Tim "finding something" and moving out. Bouncing off the crassness of the "actor mounts a comeback!" narratives on reality TV, Actress revels in its lyricism and ellipses, before sending us off with a final scene so unnerving you'll need to talk to someone about it. recommended