by Greg Muskewitz
In the Bedroom is readily generating an Oscar push, and in wake of Miramax’s shortcomings with Amélie (not completely out for the count yet, only circumstantially) and The Shipping News (hopefully causing the company to renege their movie-a-year contract with Hallström to once-in-a-blue moon). Still, for some such as myself, the reaction it has gathered would have been perplexing regardless if I had seen it before all of its critical crownings or after.(One reaction would have been, “I saw no reason to make a big deal out of it when I saw it, so why are they doing it now?” or the other, “So what was all that fuss over?”) Either way, it is needless to say that I have been in a similar state of mind recently. Todd “Fidelio” Field directs the story of a married couple who cope (if you can call it that) with the death of their son. However, that ominous event that sets the mood for much of the film, doesn’t transpire until a good portion of the way into the 150-minute running-time. Leading up to that, one would suspect that there would be progression in the story, structural building, development. But there isn’t; it’s but a lot of cryptic conversation and deep ritualization. None of the relationships—between the son and the mother, the son and the father, the son and the girlfriend, the husband and the wife, the girlfriend and the wife, the girlfriend and the husband, etc.—are sufficiently established. Few words are exchanged, but the actions don’t always match them, leaving an unintentional half-assed ambiguity. The only clear situation is between the girlfriend and ex-husband, but the rest is left to speculation without motive(s). Once the murder has occurred, silences follow, retreats into habit and guilt coincide, and the staid atmosphere further thickens. The tension is a palpable one, and I don’t doubt the accuracy of the stages (anger and fighting) that follow.
A big hullabaloo has been made out of Sissy Spacek, Tom Wilkinson and Marisa Tomei’s performances. Like the film, too big of a deal has been made, at least in the unsubstantiated light that I view it in. Tomei has a few scenes, emotional but curt, and all but evaporates for the rest of the time. Spacek is being toted as a Best Actress shoo-in, and even I predicted that she will be the winner. She has a lot going for her in critical reception and recognition, but mind you, this is nowhere near her Loretta Lynn in Coal Miner’s Daughter. And it is less a pleasure than her ignored Rose Straight in The Straight Story. If there was any question over whether Naomi Watts’ performance in Mulholland Drive should be considered a lead or supporting performance, if Spacek’s is a lead, then so is Watts’. (And, I might add, Watts gave a much better performance.) Wilkinson is the true surprise, the true lead, the true revelation. It is he who carries the weight of the film on his back, and yet under all that pressure has the most amount of space to maneuver. Relegated mostly to fluff like The Full Monty and Rush Hour 2, In the Bedroom is the best piece yet that allows Wilkinson to show what he has available. Field’s visual style and pacing is as indistinct as the décor of the Maine housing, as he makes a preference to long, lingering shots, enervated and colorless in the execution. (So much so, that when Field stumbles upon a beautiful composition, such as the mist of blood caught in the headlights of an SUV, he doesn’t even know it.)
With Nick Stahl and William Mapother.Final Verdict: B-.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=4844&reviewer=172
originally posted: 01/11/02 05:05:23