IN THE BEDROOM
Director: Todd Field
Cast: Tom Wilkinson, Sissy Spacek, Nick Stahl, Marisa Tomei, William Mapother, William Wise, Celia Weston
MPAA Rating: (for some violence and language)
Running Time: 2:10
Release Date: 12/25/01
Review by Mark Dujsik
For two of its three acts, In the Bedroom shows such restraint and a complete willingness to let sleeping dogs lie, that we feel this incredible surge of tension and anguish in every scene. In these sections, the film is about what’s left unsaid and undone. There are scenes driven on quiet, subtle changes in a single character’s expression or the way one characters ends a discussion before it begins, and they have more resonance silent than had they contained dialogue. It’s about the calm before the storm. Around the third act, though, the storm hits, and the film becomes conventional and slowly loses its overall impact. From one key argument, the characters begin saying and doing far too much for the simple purpose of finding as clear-cut a resolution as possible. It’s not a full resolution, mind you, but any such attempt is demanding far too much story out of such purely visceral material.
The film does have three clear acts, although the line between the second and the third is a bit blurred. In the first, as we always do, we get the exposition. In a small fishing town in Maine, Frank Fowler (Nick Stahl), spending his last summer at home before college, is dating Natalie Strout (Marisa Tomei), an older woman with two children from her marriage to Richard (William Mapother). Richard is a continuous burden on all of their lives. He is obsessive and desperate. He even shows up uninvited to his child’s birthday party at the Fowlers’ home. Matt (Tom Wilkinson) and Ruth Fowler (Sissy Spacek) are worried about the entire scenario, as well, although Ruth is much more verbal about her fears than Matt, who figures everything will work out on its own. As the summer passes, Frank seems more willing to take a year off before going to college, and Richard begins showing a far darker and violent streak to his behavior. By the end of the first act, a severe and tragic event takes place that binds everyone together.
The setup is extraordinary in the way it takes time establishing its characters and locale, so when tragedy strikes, it is all the more potent. The characters are established incredibly quickly and thoroughly. Activities that we have already seen as ordinary take on an entirely new heartbreaking level. Everything is a reminder of what has happened. Things like watching a truck with the name of a fishing company on it or sitting alone during lunch—a time reserved beforehand for daily visits—suddenly contain an unspoken sadness to them. It’s this seemingly infinite sorrow that permeates through almost every frame of the second act. Every scene seems to revolve around an image or a single discussion with one wrong thing said. In his feature film debut, director Todd Field has accomplished something many directors never manage. He flawlessly portrays the internal workings of his characters minds and the complete despair of their hearts. The film is lyrical in this way—a grand lament. . It also handles its subject matter fairly, with intelligence and respect. Actors Tom Wilkinson and Sissy Spacek deliver two incredible performances as people on the verge of something that they cannot seem to figure out. Something they want to say or do, but can’t.
By the time these characters have made a full connection, we don’t wonder how everything will turn out. A bond hearing becomes important, and a trial is put on an almost indefinite hold. These bits of information are not necessary to follow through on; they are simply another emotional barrier—the impetus for character observation. When the film begins following this road for a semi-resolution, it becomes what it has avoided. During one key scene, the characters let out their feelings. It’s a powerful scene, but it also betrays the film’s strength of leaving its characters to their own internal torment. Instead of being about events propelling the characters, the film suddenly becomes about the characters manipulating the events that pushed them in the first place. It goes from an intense domestic drama in the first act to a heartbreaking psychological drama in the second act to a conventional revenge drama in the final act. In its attempt at a conclusion, the film somehow manages to lose its connection to the characters. We have gotten to know them for what they do not do or say, and when they begin saying things that never should have been said, doing things that never should have been done, they are somehow different.
Even with its flawed finale, In the Bedroom is a powerful experience, but because of its finale, the film does not feel complete. We are given a solid conclusion, but we never needed one. The kind of tragedy portrayed in the film is the kind that never goes away. We get the sense that it will remain in the end, but we are also meant to feel relief that perhaps something was accomplished. In this ultimate manipulation, it misses greatness, even if it does find beauty up until then.
Copyright © 2002 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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