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banner Thursday, 24 January, 2002, 15:36 GMT
Bedroom brings emotional wake-up
Wilkinson and Spacek play a couple struggling with grief
By BBC News Online's Rebecca Thomas

In an age when box office success seems increasingly dependant on megabucks marketing clout, it's easy to let the truly classy, low-budget and quiet movies slip through the net.

And, if it was not for the fuss now being lavished on it on by Hollywood's award-givers, In the Bedroom would most probably have suffered a similarly obscure fate.

Luckily for first-time director Todd Field, there is now a much better chance that his film will be seen by more than just a handful of cinema goers.

And among those who do venture to buy a ticket, appreciation levels should be high.

For, although this unadorned story of the devastating toll of grief will not be everyone's cup of tea, what it does is remind us of the true power of convincing on-screen drama.

In the Bedroom
Student Frank is deeply involved with mother-of-two Natalie

At the centre of Field's story are the comfortable, well-respected middle-aged New England couple Matt and Ruth Fowler - played by Sissy Spacek and Tom Wilkinson.

Matt is one of the town's doctors and Ruth teaches choral music at the local high school.

They dote on their only son Frank - played by Nick Stahl - a sensitive, artistic young man on the verge of going to university to fulfil his dream of becoming an architect.

But Frank is also deeply involved with Natalie - played by Marisa Tomei - an older, less well-educated mother of two, separated from her volatile but ever-present husband.

Matt takes an indulgent stance towards the relationship but Ruth becomes increasingly convinced that it could ruin Frank's future.

Suddenly, events take a terrible turn when Frank is murdered and Ruth's, Matt's and Natalie's worlds are turned upside down.

Bitter

One of the hardest human situations to portray dramatically has to be that of bereavement.

So often, film makers descend into melodrama or trite optimism, as if embarrassed by the emotion they have chosen to depict.

Sissy Spacek in In the Bedroom
Spacek: Her character becomes bitter and vengeful

Field however just tells it like it is and for all his lack of manoeuvring and decoration, the power and slow agony of grief truly hits home.

One of the strengths of his depiction is the way we see Matt and Ruth - both consumed by their loss - change in themselves, and more especially towards each other.

Ruth becomes bitter, angry and vengeful. Matt, on the other hand, puts on a brave face while only we as viewers are able to see that inside he is falling apart.

Sissy Spacek puts on a performance that is terrifying in its acidity and probably one of the best of a distinguished career.

Skill

British character actor Tom Wilkinson - perhaps best known for comedy The Full Monty - is at times too pitiful to watch.

And In the Bedroom may very well prove to be Wilkinson's finest hour for one of the most unusual aspects of this film is that, for once, the emotions of the central male character are laid bare.

Tom Wilkinson in In the Bedroom
Wilkinson: This film may well prove his finest hour

Field says he owes much to writer Andre Dubus, who wrote the short story on which In the Bedroom was based.

But the skill with which he deals with his cast and material feel too natural to have been borrowed or learnt.

Each scene has its purpose and weight - and all without Hollywood's usual additions of thrills, spills and noise.

The cynical will no doubt steer clear of such a movie. For others, what is promised is a deeply moving, thought-provoking experience that reminds us what it is to be human.

See also:

19 Nov 01 | Oscars 2002
Todd Field makes good of grief
25 Jan 02 | Reviews
In the Bedroom: Your views
28 Jan 02 | Reviews
In the Bedroom: Press views
Internet links:


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Links to more Oscars 2002 stories are at the foot of the page.


Links to more Oscars 2002 stories