In The Bedroom

Movie Review by Toby White

Starring: Tom Wilkinson, Sissy Spacek, Nick Stahl, Marisa Tomei, William Wise, Celia Weston
Director: Todd Field

What is it about Maine that inspires such languid tales of soul-searching and human foible? Perhaps it’s the idyllic, unassuming lifestyle of the residents in such picturesque coastal surroundings that provides the perfect backdrop for something dramatic to work so that, by contrast, the impact is much more profound. But that would imply cliche and IN THE BEDROOM most certainly is not. In an age of hopelessly sentimental cinema of this nature, here is a film that really wakens one’s consciousness.

Nick Stahl (the boy from THE MAN WITHOUT A FACE, but now grown-up) plays Frank Fowler, recently graduated and odd-jobbing as a lobster fisherman before starting college. He’s in a relationship with Natalie (Marisa Tomei), a woman ten years’ his senior and recently separated from her violently jealous husband, Richard. Tom Wilkinson and Sissy Spacek play Frank’s parents, Matt and Ruth, grudgingly accepting of his relationship with this older woman given the circumstances. Since this film is about coping with grief, it’s no plot spoiler when I say that Richard snaps and kills Frank pitting his parents into their respective ways of dealing with the loss.

It’s a clever, carefully constructed drama. The key plot point, Frank’s death, doesn’t occur until an hour into the film and the build-up is slow but deliberate. The subtlety at work in this film is paramount: its not what’s shown, but what’s not shown that makes this different: key events appear to be omitted in favour of the impact of their aftermath – we don’t see a sequence where Richard beats up Frank but instead touch on the parents’ opposed responses to this incident. Conversely, the subtlety also works with the little nuances that we do see and these help define the setting and characters. In turn, the significance of the build-up provides a template for Matt and Ruth’s methods of coping with Frank’s death and the ensuing injustice that serves Richard.

What makes this story work (let’s face it, the subject matter is not entirely original) is the fact that the performances are as natural as the script. There are some wonderful little touches: Matt’s card-playing friend reciting William Blake; the girl selling chocolate door-to-door which interrupts a pivotal scene between Matt and Ruth. These are risks to a story which Hollywood traditionally avoids but what audiences are crying out for. Add to this Todd Field’s exemplary direction – he holds a shot and allows his actors to do the work, perhaps a symptom of his acting days (he played Tom Cruise’s piano-playing friend in EYES WIDE SHUT) – and you have a perfect equation for what captivating cinema should be.

If you haven’t already heard of IN THE BEDROOM, then you will have by the time the Oscars come around. It’s one of those films that bypasses public consciousness and the box office big time but emerges during the season of awards ceremonies with multiple nominations leaving the bulk of the movie-going audience wondering why they’d never heard of it. And rightly so because this film is one of those gems that come around too seldom. So I won’t say that there should be more like it because that would saturate the market and dissipate their impact. If movies are escapism then perhaps this should be avoided but if, to you, film is an art form that mankind employs to better its perspective of itself then this should not be missed.

5 out of 6 stars