Insightful “In the Bedroom”

A film reviewer is not much more than a committed moviegoer. The main differences are that they usually see more movies and they have to form opinions on them, whether they want to or not.
After a while, so many films seem the same that it’s refreshing when a film is unique or touches you in a significant way.

Based on a short story by Andre Dubus, “In the
Bedroom” is just such a movie. Actor Todd Field (“Eyes Wide Shut,” Ruby in Paradise”) directs and co-writes. As a first effort, it is extraordinary.

It’s so perfectly acted and realistic that it’s as if you’re the proverbial fly on the wall watching the effects of an ill-fated love affair and the tragedy it brings to a family.

The feeling of being an intruder on the lives of real people is a unique experience. The last time I felt that way was with Mike Leigh’s “Secrets and Lies.” Unlike so many films about death and grieving there’s little sentimentality.

Field does not try to wring tears from us; rather he tries to put us in the shoes of the characters so that we feel their pain. He makes you wonder what you would do in their place.

The title is explained early on in a scene that has Tom Wilkinson (“The Patriot,” “The Full Monty”) explaining why some lobsters lose a claw in traps, which he calls bedrooms. Basically, things get crowded when there are more then two in a bedroom.
Wilkinson plays Matt Fowler a doctor in a picturesque Maine town. His wife Ruth, brilliantly played by Sissy Spacek (“Affliction,” “Blast from the Past”), is very worried about her college-aged son Frank’s relationship with an older divorcee.
Frank, Nick Stahl (“Man Without a Face”), tells his parents that Natalie (Marisa Tomei) is just another girl. Yet he acts like it’s love and even talks about not going to graduate school, but becoming a full-time lobsterman.

Added into the mix is Natalie’s volatile ex-husband, played to slimy perfection by William Mapother (“Swordfish”). The first half of the movie depicts people doing everyday stuff. They go to work, take care of the lawn, watch little league games, have lunch with friends.

Matt and Ruth are a long-time married couple who still love each other very much. Frank is falling in love with not just Natalie, but her two young sons. We like these people. They remind us of people we know.

The second half of the film has most of these people doing the same things as in the beginning, but something has changed drastically. Everything is more difficult. Everything is slower paced (including the movie itself) because these people are grieving and in pain.

Anybody who has ever lost someone they love will recognize themselves in the characters staring into space or at a TV they aren’t watching. But there is more than just grief tearing at the souls of the characters, there’s anger and there’s denial. It is not what is said that has so much meaning; it is what goes unspoken for so long that has the power to hurt and to heal.

There are some key scenes in the movie we never see. An agreement between friends to do something shocking is all the more affective because we never hear it. It’s an interesting choice on how to develop the plot, but it works, as does most everything else in the film.

The acting by all, especially Spacek and Wilkinson, are some of the best performances of the year.
Some might find “In the Bedroom” slow and depressing. But it’s leisurely pace draws one in – if you let it. And it’s no more depressing than the news. It’s more insightful and intriguing and there are issues of love – all types – and what is right and what is wrong and what is justice than you’ll never find on the evening news. Rated-R