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In the Bedroom

In the Bedroom
2001 / Color / 2:35 anamorphic 16:9 / 130 min. / Street Date August 13, 2002 / $29.99
Starring Tom Wilkinson, Sissy Spacek, Nick Stahl, Marisa Tomei, William Wise, Celia Weston, Karen Allen
Cinematography Antonio Calvache
Production Designer Shannon Hart
Film Editor Frank Reynolds
Original Music Thomas Newman
Written by Robert Festinger, Todd Field from a story by Andre Dubus
Produced by Todd Field, Ted Hope, Ross Katz, Graham Leader, John Penotti, Penn Sicre, Tim Williams
Directed by Todd Field

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Yet another intense family drama about extreme circumstances, In the Bedroom is a beautifully crafted story, but one you'll never read in Reader's Digest. A man and wife, their son and his girlfriend find themselves in situations we've all heard about, and dread ever happening to us. It is one of the best films of 2001, far better than the best-picture winner.

Synopsis: (no spoilers)

College student and promising architect Frank Fowler (Nick Stahl) is the apple of his parents' eye. His father, Matt (Tom Wilkinson) is a 55 year old doctor, and both he and his wife Ruth (Sissy Spacek), a music teacher, are respected members of a very close-knit community. Summer is almost over and Frank is due to return to school, but Ruth is worried about his relationship with a young divorcee, Natalie Strout (Marisa Tomei). Ruth fears that the young woman is unworthy of Frank, and will make him forget his studies. Not only that, but Natalie's ex, Richard (William Mapother) is an unpredictable hothead with fantasies of forcing his marriage back together. With the summer almost over, Ruth is bedside herself with concern, and getting little cooperation from either her husband, or her son.

(spoiler - free)

Told with a deliberate pace, and a shifting point of view that keeps us abreast of the emotional drive of the story, In the Bedroom never becomes a soap opera. It's one of those intelligent movies where one must pay attention to fine shades of character interactions just to keep up. The story is all in their eyes - it's how we decide that Frank Fowler is in love with Natalie, how we know that Natalie truly respects him, how we sense that Matt and Ruth Fowler's peaceful marriage is balanced atop a volcano of suppressed resentments.

The show has the feeling of life being lived day to day. People here don't bounce from assertive decision to decisive action, but instead live like most of us do - tentatively. Life is a series of small compromises, and we don't fight our families over every disagreement that comes along. Big issues are sometimes avoided. Parents give up on pressing their viewpoints. Children hope they'll be allowed to determine their own paths, even if they're not ready to. In In the Bedroom, every member of the Fowler family, and girlfriend Natalie as well, are thoughtful folk. Only Ruth sees trouble coming, with every instinct in her body ... and she's right.

The movie has a strong sense of justice and personal imperatives. The Fowler family, in the second half of the story, embarks on a course of events that they can't even speak out loud to one other. What are 'good' people to do, when they can no longer bear an unjust situation? If this were a low-budget, low-ambition exploitation picture, it would be a flat revenge tale. Everything here is more complicated than that, and nothing is so easy as to be explained in words.

Sorry to be so vague ... In the Bedroom will grab your attention very quickly, and you don't need the spoiling details that would flesh out this description of its tone.

The acting in In the Bedroom is the best Savant saw in 2001. Sissy Spacek's mother is inflected just a bit toward the extreme of the Mary Tyler Moore character in Ordinary People, but only because of her emotional isolation. Tom Wilkinson's father is a community pillar type, and no dummy, which is essential for the course of action he finally takes. When his section of the story gets rolling, the film grabs us by the stomach and doesn't let go.

The younger triangle, Nick Stahl, Marisa Tomei and William Mapother, are convincingly correct, so much so that we find ourselves reacting to them as if they were people we know. Young Frank Fowler is a man who hasn't made up his mind - his official plans still include Architecture school, and yet he's talking about quitting and becoming a fisherman like his grandfather. Natalie Strout is no tramp, but she can't help being the buzz of the town - the undereducated divorced mother who's poaching a younger man. And William Mapother is an utterly real goonish troublemaker - the kind of bruising lout who won't go away, who can terrorize people just by being around. It's a fascinating mix.

I haven't read much about the cinematography of In the Bedroom, but it was also one of the best-shot pictures of last year, utilizing no gimmicks to create its series of deceptively warm environments and lived-in spaces where the tense drama plays out. It is of course a matter of direction as well, but the scenes in Natalie's house are more intense than a teen slasher film - even the light tells us that there's going to be trouble.

There's a scene where one character goes to another to ask forgiveness, to make a connnection, to perhaps find mutual consolation. Some strong shocks occur elsewhere, but what happens after the plea for understanding is painfully true to human nature. Even the best of us is capable of cold cruelty, when put in the right circumstances. In the Bedroom has the courage to show us how a person's actions can be terribly wrong, and simultaneously, understandably unavoidable.

I hope I didn't spoil any of this show - if you're looking for a serious drama about how tensions might really affect a family, they don't come any better than this one. It's more compelling than most thrillers.

There's not much to say about In the Bedroom except that Miramax has presented it as a plain-wrap disc with an impeccable transfer, sound and picture. The Panavision Aspect Ratio is allowed to be wider than usual for an enhanced DVD, giving the compositions an even better balance than normal.

In the Bedroom was nominated for five awards and won none, but that doesn't seem a good reason to put it out sans extras. The original author is very well thought-of, and some production background, even the kind of featurette seen on Iris would have been welcome. As it is, there's not even a trailer. Perhaps a special edition is in the works.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, In the Bedroom rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: None
Packaging: Amaray case
Reviewed: August 29, 2002

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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