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In the Bedroom

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All-Reviews.com Movie Review: In the Bedroom

Starring: Tom Wilkinson, Sissy Spacek
Director: Todd Field
Rated: R
RunTime: 130 Minutes
Release Date: December 2001
Genre: Drama


*Also starring: Nick Stahl, William R. Mapother, Karen Allen, Marisa Tomei, William Wise, Celia Weston



Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

When a young person dies prematurely, particularly as the result of an accident or a homicide, the parents more often than not will break up. While accepting the statistic that fifty percent of American marriages are broken up by divorce, I've often wondered why couples who in my way of thinking should be brought closer together by the death of a son or daughter are so likely to split. Todd Field's film "In the Bedroom," scripted by the director and Rob Festinger from a story by the late Andre Dubus, provides an answer.

The film, which was shown at the 2001 Sundance Festival where it picked up a Special Jury Prize for acting, is already being touted as a sure Oscar nomination for Sissy Spacek and Tom Wilkinson, who performs in the role of a middle-aged married couple, Ruth and Matt Fowler. The Fowlers live with their teenage son Frank (Nick Stahl) in a small town in Maine where canning and lobster fishing are the chief industries. Matt is a physician, a general practitioner who treats most elderly patients, while Ruth teaches music in the local high school where she excels as the director of a choral group rehearsing Balkan songs for a forthcoming Labor Day concert. Frank is pursuing a hot summer romance with an older woman, Natalie Strout (Marisa Tomei), who has filed for divorce against her husband Richard (William Mapother). Frank is conflicted about whether to seek a college education and become a professional like his dad or to making a career as lobstering which he enjoys greatly. When he is not courting Natalie or out on a boat, he joins his father playing cards with the locals, including Willis Grinnel (William Wise), who is his dad's best friend. When Frank dies tragically, the pleasant, pastoral life of his parents is changed radically.

This is the sort of tale that would be milked for melodrama by Hollywood studios or drenched in overwrought emotions by the TV soaps. If fellow Maine resident Stephen King had penned the yarn, Frank's ghost would appear prominently--though in this film the specter of the young man remains present only metaphorically. Instead, Todd Field treats the people of the town of Camden with an especially loving touch, moving the narrative forward ever so slowly without capricious camera pans or showy, unnatural colors. He takes his time to show us in the audience, especially those of us who live in big cities, the rhythm of rural New England life where professionals like Matt take long, relaxing lunches with friends, play cards with fishermen at night, and guide their kids toward appropriate choices without undue pressure. We watch a high school choral group sing obscure southeast European songs as though hip-hop to them were meaningless words notable only as an example of alliteration and voluntarily piercing one's tongue or naval would seem an ludicrous option.

Through the marvelous acting of Sissy Spacek and Tom Wilkinson--with, notably, Marisa Tomei in a deadly serious role-- we see a couple who appear to be wholly compatible only to have the rug pulled out from under us when in the latter half of the story grievances pour out between them. "In the Bedroom" has been called by some a serious "American Beauty," but it can be likened at least peripherally to a film like Atom Egoyan's "The Sweet Hereafter," which embraces the grief of parents whose children have tragically died. By underplaying their roles, making the silences tell more about their connection than their words, Sissy Spacek and Tom Wilkinson turn in the best performances of the year to date.

Copyright 2001 Harvey Karten

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