Cinema Signal:

. "In the Bedroom"

A very serious movie about parents' loss of a son. It's a story told with great care for the truthfulness of each character's motivations and what drives them to take the actions they take. It is a small budgeted movie with a well selected cast, each member of which is totally devoted to the project. When all is said and done, however, there is almost no relief for the seriousness in which all are engaged. It's a fine ensemble of acting but you leave the theatre gasping for air.

Young Frank Fowler is involved with Natalie Strout, an older woman, separated, two kids. Surprisingly, the small town of Camden, Maine isn't making too much out of it but Frank's parents Ruth (Sissy Spacek) and Matt (Tom Wilkinson) aren't too fond of it. Well, it's mainly Ruth who is disturbed and when Frank tries to comfort her by emphasizing that the affair is a "summer thing", he isn't calming his mother's fears. Maybe it's because he's giving serious thought to not pursuing his education in his chosen career, architecture, for which he has demonstrated significant skill and, instead, is content to remain in Camden as a lobsterman.

And then, there's Richard Strout (William Mapother), the son of the town's rich businessman, a town troublemaker and Natalie's estranged husband. His presence at a barbeque gathering doesn't do much for its success as a social event. Worse, he's pursuing Natalie for a return to the household. She's not having it but attempts to maintain civility and a rapprochement with him for the sake of the kids. His answer is to get boisterous and threatening. And, he knows who Natalie has been messing around with.

Then, tragedy strikes and the moral dilemmas flow. How do you deal with an aching heart? With a marriage in which there's a minimum of meaningful communication? A shared love for a son but too much distrust? How far do you go to obtain justice and/or consolation? How far can you go? Can we, the audience, agree with how far they went? Like said, this is a serious film.

In an ensemble of fine performances, my first notes are for Marisa Tomei who needed this refreshing reminder of her skills and magnetism. Instead of playing "cutsie" or "ditzy" (Lola in "What Women Want"), here she's naturalistic and out front with a credible character. After 18 years in films, she makes an important mark in this role as a gifted and attractive actor. May she channel her future roles more in this direction, and this film may help her do it.

Sissy Spacek is as fine as she ever has been in a somewhat unsympathetic role; while Tom Wilkinson duly reminds us he's as good with weighty matter as with comedy ("The full Monty", 1997). What strikes us about him is how dominant he's growing in American films, perhaps pursuing a path set out by another off-shore character actor, Stellan Skarsgard ("The Glass House"). Wilkinson is so castable because he has the ability to be hard as necessary with a soft, almost comforting humanity which derives, in part, from a certain effeteness. William Mapother impresses with his menace as a slightly off balance threat while Nick Stahl has the looks and the youth to present a convincing image of young and in love to the detriment of his future.

As devoted as all the actors are and, for the most part, well cast, the problem for this film comes from the script. Director-cowriter Todd Field ("Once and Again" TV series) and writer Robert Festinger seem to have had tunnel vision when conceiving and putting this story together. It's laser like in its narrowness of vision which may be what a movie with this subject needed to be, and the tight focus might well result in an acting nomination, but that doesn't relieve the effect of emotional strangulation.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  


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Son Nick Stahl tries to reassure mother
Sissy Spacek about his relationship

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