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USA 2001
Directed by
Todd Field
130 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

In The Bedroom

One gets so used to the steady stream of action heroes, fantasy figures and generally formulaic characterisations that In The Bedroom strikes one as a rarity in American film - a restrained, mature treatment of a real life subject that few people will willingly consider  - the loss of a child.

Tom Wilkinson and Sissy Spacek star as Matt and Ruth Fowler, a middle-aged couple living in the small coastal town of Camden, Maine. Their only son, Frank (Nick Stahl), who is preparing to go to college, is seeing an older woman, Natalie (Marisa Tomei) who has two young children. Ruth thinks the relationship is unwise but Frank assures her it is a summer fling and Matt doesn’t object.  But no-one has anticipated the violence of Natalie’s ex (William Mapother), who in an act of jealous vengeance leaves a wake of pain to be dealt with.

Based on a short story “Killings” by Andre Dubus, Todd Field’s debut feature is an insightful study of the way in which people deal with tragedy.  Field spends time with his characters, letting us get to know them before the ordinariness of their lives is forever destroyed when Frank is murdered.  The attention then turns very much to Matt and Ruth who have to deal not only with their grief, but anger, when it looks like the most the killer will be convicted of is manslaughter.  We watch as individually and as a couple they struggle to cope with their situation. This is done with a sensitivity and credibility that no doubt inheres in the original text but Field's handling of it is flawless.

Most importantly, however, and this is perhaps because Field is an experienced actor himself, all the performances are flawless on both sides of the tragedy. So good are Spacek, Wilkinson and Tomei in representing the humanity of their characters that in a way it is a pity that the film opts for a fairly conventional and therefore, one feels, at least in part, too easily-achieved resolution. Still, this takes little away from what is in the main a finely judged film for a thoughtful audience. .




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