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In the Bedroom
Starring: Tom Wilkinson, Sissy Spacek, Marisa Tomei, Nick Stahl, William Mapother
Directed by: Todd Field
Four stars (out of five)
By Mark Polishuk
Miramax has perfected the art of the Oscar promotion campaign to such a degree that every year for the past decade the studio has had a film nominated for Best Picture.
Its latest Academy Award contender, In the Bedroom, may not quite deserve the honour, though it is still an outstanding film that combines aspects of a thriller with an examination of a middle-aged couple whose lives are beset by senseless tragedy.
Matt and Ruth Fowler (Tom Wilkinson and Sissy Spacek) are a small-town Maine couple whose lives are a comfortable routine of baseball games on the radio, backyard barbecues and preparing their son Frank (Nick Stahl) for his first year of college.
Frank, in the meantime, is spending his summer romancing Natalie (Marisa Tomei), a recently separated, older woman with two children. Frank and Natalie fall so deeply in love that he considers postponing college for a year in order to be with her.
Looming over this relationship however, is Natalie's estranged husband Richard (William Mapother), who is far from pleased about being separated from his kids.
Nothing more should be revealed about the plot, since one of the film's strengths is the deliberate and sometimes surprising manner in which the events unfold. Needless to say, something bad happens and the rest of the characters are left picking up the pieces of their lives.
The difficulty the characters have healing is the real tragedy of the film the Fowlers discover they were not the close-knit family they had thought.
The characters' emotional restraint is reflected in the measured, perhaps slow, pace of the film. Director Todd Field constructs his film like a piece of music. Each group of scenes feels as if it is building towards a climax and then things quiet back down again.
There is, ironically enough, no actual music in the film apart from the occasional song played on a car radio. This lack of score gives Bedroom a feeling of authenticity.
Problematic, however, are Field's occasionally awkward directorial touches. There is a series of scenes where nearly every shot fades to black, in an attempt to make the scenes feel like short vignettes in the Fowlers' lives.
Field uses so many of these fadeouts, in such rapid succession, that they near the point of self-parody. The storyline also suffers from some clichéd symbolism. One particular character cuts a finger at one point and, at the end of the film, removes the bandage as a metaphor for how their emotional scars have also healed.
This is not one of those movies about dysfunctional families that degenerates into scene after scene of people screaming at each other Bedroom is a drama, not a melodrama.
A film like Bedroom presents a challenge for the cast, as each role calls for a great deal of restraint. Every performance is first-rate so it is no surprise that Spacek, Tomei and Wilkinson are all nominated for Academy Awards.
Wilkinson's performance is particularly good, while Spacek's ability to portray more with body language than others can with words shines on-screen.
While In the Bedroom is not quite Best Picture material, it is still well-worth seeing for the great performances and engrossing storyline.
Miramax's money was far from wasted.