In the Bedroom
2001, R, 131 min. Directed by Todd Field. Starring Tom Wilkinson, Sissy Spacek, Nick Stahl, William Mapother, Marisa Tomei, William Wise, Celia Weston, Karen Allen.
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Jan. 4, 2002
In the Bedroom takes its name from a “bedroom trap,” in which two lobsters are trapped in a single fishing cage and attack each other, thus leaving both unmarketable. It's a fitting metaphor for a film -- set in a Maine lobstering town -- in which loved ones claw each other to pieces, rendering everyone involved damaged goods. And in the bedroom is where it all happens, really -- love, sex, intimacy, and betrayal -- the stuff that fuels our every action. Here, it fuels a tragedy. A subtle, unsettling debut by novice feature director Todd Field (an actor best known for his work in Ruby in Paradise and Eyes Wide Shut), In the Bedroom is divided into two distinct parts: before and after. “Before” is a joy to watch; college student Frank Fowler (Stahl) has come home for the summer to his adoring, Ivy League-educated parents, Matt (Wilkinson), a general practitioner, and Ruth (Spacek), a choral teacher. Frank becomes involved with an older woman, single mom Natalie Strout (Tomei), who's only recently separated from her husband Richard (Mapother). You get the feeling the Fowlers pride themselves on having raised their son, an only child, in a liberal, lenient environment, but that attitude backfires when they see Frank steering away from the course they've set out for him. Indeed, Matt takes a certain glee from watching his son ostensibly sow his wild oats, but Ruth is more leery, both of the baggage Natalie brings (two children and an unstable husband) and of the threat she poses to Frank's future. Sure enough, the summer “fling” turns serious -- the scenes between Stahl and Tomei as they grow closer are sweetly moving -- and suddenly Frank's thinking about postponing architectural school to work as a lobsterman and help raise the kids. Then In the Bedroom -- up to this point, sunlit and mostly idyllic -- is upset by a violent tragedy, and suddenly the film is defined in a very different language. It is the “after,” and it is the language of loss. In the aftermath, everything has changed: from the film's tone and makeup to the pace with which it moves. It slows to the exacting, glacial speed of grief, and it is in this final half that In the Bedroom distinguishes itself as one of the finest films of the year and one of the most surehanded directorial debuts in a decade. Based on a short story by Andre Dubus and adapted for the screen by Field and Rob Festinger, the material here is tailor-made for melodrama, for big, bombastic camerawork and thundering, actorly monologues. But Field forgoes the easy way out; his direction is understated, deathly quiet, highlighting every tiny crack in the foundation rather than one monumental, waterworks rupture. The actors, as a powerful and convincing ensemble, are equally understated and just as devastating. Wilkinson in particular (a British actor seen in Shakespeare in Love and The Full Monty) is stunning; in body language alone he articulates Matt's transformation from a man with an easygoing gait to a despiritualized slouch. But ultimately, this is Field's show, without the slightest hint of showiness. He's chosen to avoid exploitation, easy audience manipulation, for something less flashy and infinitely more agonizing. It's quite a show indeed.