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In the Bedroom

By Spectator, 2017-02-18

While awaiting new movies that interest me, I revisit older ones. The 2001 "In the Bedroom" has long been a favorite but, surprisingly, one that I had not reviewed.  So, for your possible interest, here are my observations. 


In the Bedroom is set in the quiet fishing town of Camden Maine and the film’s images are replete with details of the workaday life of that distinctive state, which is director Todd Fields' own. The opening scene is suffused by the heady atmosphere of a brief New Englandsummer. Two young lovers enjoy each other in an untamed patch of long grass being blown by soul-stirring winds. They are the vivacious Natalie Strout (Marisa Tomei) and Frank Fowler (Nick Stahl), a handsome kid about 10 years younger than Natalie. The tale is divided into two distinct parts: before and after. “Before” is a joy to watch; college student Frank has come home for the summer to his adoring, Ivy League-educated parents, Matt (Tom Wilkinson), a genial, prosperous local doctor, and Ruth (Sissy Spacek), who is the high-school’s choral director. 

Frank becomes involved with next-door neighbor Natalie who's only recently separated from her abusive husband Richard (William 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. Matt takes a vicarious enjoyment in his son’s affair but the protective, somewhat prudish, 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. All these tensions tug at one another beneath the placid surface of a family picnic -- the film's brilliant set piece -- in which the dominant atmosphere is one of collective well-being. It is only when low-life Richard makes an unexpected appearance that the tensions surface and warning signs flash.

Frank’s 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 her kids. Then the peaceful rhythms of In the Bedroom - up to this point, mostly idyllic – are upset by a violent tragedy, and the film builds a head of narrative tension and is defined in a very different language. It is a language of loss and everything has changed: from the film's tone and makeup to the pace with which it moves. The story 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 new millennium and one of the most sure-handed directorial debuts in a decade.

In the Bedroom is based on a short story, Killings, by Andre Dubus and adapted for the screen by Field and Rob Festinger. The material is tailor-made for melodrama, for big, bombastic camera-work and thundering, actorly monologs. But, thankfully, Field forgoes the easy way out; his direction is understated, deathly quiet, highlighting every tiny crack in the foundation rather than one monumental rupture. The actors, as a convincing ensemble, are equally understated and each has perfect tone. Spacek's performance is as devastating as it is unflashy. With the slight tightening of her neck muscles and a downward twitch of her mouth, she conveys her character's relentlessness, and then balances it with enough sweetness to make Ruth seem entirely human. It is one of her greatest performances. Wilkinson's shambling small-town doctor is so quintessentially New England in look and manner that you forget he is a noted Shakespearean actor. The often-overlooked Tomei's sorrowful Natalie may be her finest screen role. Stahl – new to me – is most believable as the amiable love-struck young Frank. But ultimately, this is Todd Field's show. Without the slightest hint of showiness, the young director chose to avoid noisy spectacle and easy audience manipulation, for something less flashy and infinitely more agonizing and convincing. 

In the Bedroom is a personal favorite movie and is very highly recommended. More on IMDB



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