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"IN THE BEDROOM"
(2001) (Sissy Spacek, Tom Wilkinson) (R)

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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: A married couple's relationship is tested when their college-aged son becomes involved in a relationship that has tragic results.
PLOT:
It's summertime in Maine and Frank Fowler (NICK STAHL) is back home from college, trying to earn some money as a part-time lobsterman before heading back to school in the fall. His parents, Matt (TOM WILKINSON), a local doctor, and Ruth (SISSY SPACEK), the high school choir teacher, are proud of their son, but are worried about his latest romantic relationship.

He's dating Natalie Strout (MARISA TOMEI), an older mother of two -- Jason (CAMDEN MUNSON) and Duncan (CHRISTOPHER ADAMS) - whose divorce to Richard (WILLIAM MAPOTHER) is not yet finalized. While it's obvious the two love each other, the Fowlers are concerned about the many differences between them, not to mention that Richard keeps showing up when he's not invited and has even hit Frank.

One thing eventually leads to another and a person ends up dead. From that point on, Frank and Ruth -with the help of their married friends Willis (WILLIAM WISE) and Katie Grinnel (CELIA WESTON) -- try to cope with the event, the ensuing court case, and the effect all of that has on their marriage.

OUR TAKE: 8 out of 10
Although there are always exceptions to the following generalization, it seems that the film world is split between lavish Hollywood productions where spectacle outweighs art, and independent or small-scale features where quality is favored over gloss. The latter could be due to limited budgets forcing filmmakers to be more creative and imaginative, or simply because the source material dictates that.

Whatever the case, the smaller films are often more interesting and better made than their larger scale brethren, although that doesn't always equate to being entertaining in a "feel good" sort of way. That's certainly the case with "In the Bedroom."

The tale of shattered, small-town domestic bliss and the theme of how far one will go to find some level of redemption, the film marks the rather impressive film debut of actor-turned filmmaker Todd Field (who has appeared in films such as "Eyes Wide Shut" and "Twister").

While the picture doesn't really contain anything unique that we haven't seen countless times before (both on the large and small screen) and easily could have fallen into melodrama or absurdity due to its tragedy influenced plot and related developments, the way in which the cast and crew have fashioned the film makes it something powerful to behold.

The beauty of the film is the way in which Field and co-screenwriter Rob Festinger (making his feature film debut) - who work from a short story by the late novelist Andre Dubus - slowly but surely draw the viewer into this world and its well-drawn characters.

Although one would think that creating and playing normal people would be easier than, say, fantasy characters of some sort, it's actually more difficult. That's because either they come off as unnatural or artificial - based on our intimate knowledge of such people - or boring and too familiar - also due to the same reason.

Thus, it's a testament to the cast and crew that they pull that off and create such an engaging, moving and ultimately rather shocking experience. They do so by taking their time in setting up the story and letting those normal, everyday characters grow on the viewer, rather than rushing to get to the pivotal event and its consequences on all involved. By doing so, they allow us to care more about the characters and thus be affected, like them, by the turn of events that change the dynamics of the story.

Of course, no matter how good the script or direction might be, the cast has to be on top of their game and up to the challenge of playing such characters, making them credible, and then dealing with the emotionally charged and draining material.

To Field's credit and/or luck, he's been blessed with a small group of terrific performers who take the material and run with it/knock it out of the ballpark/(insert your favorite glowing metaphor for excelling here).

As the older couple whose marriage is rocked by tragedy, Tom Wilkinson ("Black Knight," "The Full Monty") and Sissy Spacek ("The Straight Story," "Coal Miner's Daughter") are absolutely terrific. Beyond tossing aside their native accents in favor of sounding authentic for their New England setting, the two perfectly play a couple whose marriage swings through an incredibly wide dramatic arc.

That obviously necessitates them credibly playing and spanning a wide range of emotions - some of them unexpected -- which both of the performers nail with perfection. In doing so, Spacek and Wilkinson deliver some of the best performances of their careers and certainly of the year in portraying characters who go to great lengths to remedy their situation. One's never sure if their solution is enacted for positive or negative reasons, but that's really not the most important point here. Instead, it's how far and to what degree people will go in reaction to unsavory and deteriorating personal conditions.

As the young lovers, Nick Stahl ("The Thin Red Line," "The Man Without a Face") and Marisa Tomei ("What Women Want," "My Cousin Vinny") are also quite good - with Tomei delivering what's arguably the best work of her career - even if their roles shrink as the story switches gears and focuses on the parents. William Mapother ("Swordfish," "Mission: Impossible 2") is effectively brutish and creepy as the estranged husband, while William Wise ("Comfortably Numb," "Blue Steel") and Celia Weston ("Hearts in Atlantis," "Snow Falling on Cedars") are solid as the older couple's friends.

A bit slow at times but more than steady on all grounds and certain to be honored come award nominations time, the film isn't for everyone and certainly isn't what one would deem "entertaining." Yet, if you appreciate the fine craftsmanship of movie professionals excelling at their work, this is a must see film. "In the Bedroom" rates as a 8 out of 10.




Reviewed August 30, 2001 / Posted December 25, 2001


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