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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 21.43%
Average: 14.29%
Pretty Bad: 13.1%
Total Crap: 15.48%

5 reviews, 54 user ratings

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In the Bedroom
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by Jack Sommersby

"Underwritten, Overstated, and Repugnant"
1 stars

Belabors the obvious with the subtlety and intelligence of a jackhammer.

In the Bedroom, a despicable, shameless piece of manipulation, sadly convinced far too many of its supposed brilliance last year. What's offered up here isn't anything even remotely original or groundbreaking; rather, the debuting director, Todd Field (who also co-wrote the script), has simply dressed up an array of tired familiarities with an artsy deliberateness with the full intention of convincing audiences they're witnessing something provocative and probing. Sadly, he succeeded, for the film garnered numerous critics' awards and a handful of Oscar nominations, not to mention a healthy box-office take from American audiences who only seek out a film like this when it's been critically lauded, so they know ahead of time that they don't have to worry about it being a substantial piece of work or not (they leave front-rank critics to decide this for them). What you wind up getting from In the Bedroom isn't anything more than you've been getting from numerous tv movie-of-the-weeks for the last three decades or so: the death of a family member unsettles a household, shatters its docility, and reminds that evil lurks even under the most disarming surfaces of small-town Americana. The film is a disgraceful snowjob of paper-thin dramatics and rock-solid pretentiousness.

In the Bedroom is a screen adaptation of Andre Dumas' powerful novella, Killings. Where Dumas was canny enough to reveal the story's central murder from the very beginning and use it as the springboard for delving into the slain victim's father's tortured psyche, Field has taken the opposite approach by prolonging that violent (and painfully obvious) inevitable, which leads to an embarrassing snafu: not only does the film's first hour fail to justify the padding -- what's revealed and conveyed could have been done so in a quarter of the time -- but then when we've been prepared for some grand kind of psychological revelation to be revealed, the follow-through is laughably lame -- spousal squabbles, plate-smashing, and a finale a la Death Wish with delusions of grandeur. Dumas obviously had more of an acute book sense than Field did a film sense: he knew the right storytelling format for the material and jam-packed it with raw, searing intensity, whereas Field inflated it and failed to supply the complex psychological foliage to justify the expansion. It's not that the film isn't the novella; but what it is plays out as nothing more than a watered-down version of it (which is quite the dubious feat, mind you, being that the novella was a mere thirty-six pages and the film clocks in at over two hours). What was effectively detailed on the page has been blatantly presented on the screen, complete with stereotypical characters, wooden dialogue, and banal metaphors.

The story takes place in a small coastal town of Maine, where graduate-school-bound Frank Fowler (played by Nick Stahl) is spending a care-free summer break back home with his parents, Matt (Tom Wilkinson) and Ruth (Sissy Spacek) -- and, also, a recently separated married woman, Natalie Strout (Marisa Tomei), and her two pre-teen children. Driven by his hormones and ego in having a sexy older woman infatuated with him, Frank blows the affair off as a casual fling and doesn't take the woman's violently impulsive, as-yet-divorced husband, Richard (William Mapother), serious as a potential threat, even though the audience can easily foresee from several zip codes away that it's only a matter of time before this Ivy League lad gets plugged. Eventually, in a charged moment of bitter jealousy and rage, Frank is cold-bloodedly gunned down by Richard, and the remaining sections of the film detail how his parents cope with their unimaginable, tragic loss.

To give you a fair idea of Field's shamelessness, the character of the father who takes it upon himself to violently avenge has had his profession changed from the novella: instead of a storekeeper, he's now a doctor (you know, having taken an oath to save life). As for the mother, rather than being just a homemaker, she's now been made a high-school choirmaster. (I kept waiting for the son to be revealed as the second-coming of Mother Theresa; as it happens, he's the next best thing in Field's eyes, I guess -- a baby-faced aspiring architect who keeps a tidy room.) And instead of the family consisting of three children, there's only the son, which, naturally, allows the tragedy to come off as even more so. I think what's allowed Field to pass off these hokey alterations is the non-obtrusiveness of his directorial style and the seriousness of his intent. After all, a film bereft of explosions, car chases, and sophomoric bathroom humor in this deplorable age of deplorable cinema must be on the up-and-up, right? Why else pay the utmost attention to character nuances unless stunning revelations are being offered up?

Field doesn't move the camera around all that much, he doesn't employ a barrage of frenetic cutting, but he does favor leaving a shot to play from a considerable distance back during crucial moments in an attempt to create a distracting facade, which can enable an audience to assume he's reaching for "truth" and has the "taste" to pull back from the obvious. Yet there's nothing particularly interesting going on in the scenes -- or underneath them, either. With all the pregnant pauses and endless deliberations for a single syllable of dialogue to be uttered, you never sense any voluptuous dramatics giving the characters any distinctive life other than what's vapidly presented before us. Like the misguided 1987 teen drama River's Edge, In the Bedroom suggests more complexity than it's even remotely able to deliver, because the filmmakers have decided that merely to present the obvious and adorn it with a respectful (i.e. "honest") presentation would propel audiences to read a lot more into it than the material than what it actually possesses.

Maybe if Field had tinkered with and gave rise to the darker, more disturbing possibilities of the material -- like how an average Joe's violent act might draw him so deep into a moral abyss that an unshakable bloodlust adhered to him, and, with no kicking and screaming, found it to his liking (something terrifyingly explored in Scott B. Smith's outstanding debut novel, A Simple Plan), or how a flawed violent man wished not to regress to his inherent nature yet was too internally weak to do so (like Dwight Yokam's abusive character in Sling Blade) -- his straining to be unconventional with the minimal camerabatics and one-shot takes would make aesthetic sense. The way it all plays out, however, you can't figure out what all the solemn respect for the scenes are for (as if they were Shakespearean gold); you keep waiting for something other than a standardized action or reaction to punctuate it. Instead, you get heaping helpings of misery and mournful silences, and it's all done in the same emotional tone with the stress marks in the same old places. Field tries to spritz things up by having the saintly mother turn into a Lady Macbeth in prodding her husband to do what she can't, and revealing that the husband had an ulterior lustful motive for encouraging his son to carry on with a not-yet-divorced woman in a dangerous affair. But, again, he's unable to align any of this with the prevailing conventionality to convince us of its importance or relevance.

Audiences have unfortunately become so accustomed to in-your-face, uncouth filmmaking that when something comes along that's decidedly restrained by today's standards they find reasons to contemplate it as being something more special than is entirely warranted. If a film appears not to be doing a whole lot wrong, it's mostly assumed, then, that's it's doing everything right, even if what's being viewed as right isn't particularly tantalizing or interesting. It's the middle-of-the-road mentality: better to view a non-offending something in a positive light rather than a wrong one because, well, it at least isn't chock-full of gore and sex. (Sadly, the former has been deemed by the MPAA and audiences alike as more socially acceptable than the latter.) Convenient thinking, I guess, allows viewers to overlook the gaping holes of logic and behavorial inconsistencies teeming throughout In the Bedroom because of their need to be comfortably affected by an overall dramatic sense which is both immediately affecting yet comfortably disaffecting upon departure from the theatre.

When the son is initially beaten, and neither his lover nor his parents contacts the police, it's definitely stretching plausible boundaries (a father's lustful infatuation overriding concerns for his son's safety?), but when the assaulter commits another violent act shortly thereafter and the police still aren't notified, you can't help but wonder if the filmmakers have truly lost their minds. They want you to be worked over by all these supposed emotional truths without having to account for all the sloppily contrived happenstances leading up to them; and, when you get right down to it, they're more interested in having the characters wallow in their misery rather than having them accept the painful consequences of moral responsibility. The central character partakes in a morally unorthodox action, yet it's hard to see how audiences are to be particularly shocked by it when the actor portraying the avenger has been directed to exude righteousness, while the actor playing the killer has obviously been encouraged to act the psychotic cad right from the get-go. Not only does this draw up simplistic labels of good and evil, but it also serves as a dummy switch by diluting the intended power of the avenger's post-murder stricken conscience. The filmmakers aren't brave enough to follow through on a family torn apart by a helplessness invoked upon them by a legal system and, most importantly, their morals; instead, they take the easy way out by using violence to suggest the duality of man without making the avenger's act shocking. In the end, all In the Bedroom comes down to is some sumvabitch getting what's coming to him.

And most of the actors are of little help. Tom Wilkinson is a dedicated actor, but not one of fertile imagination -- he can't make any more of a role than what's been written. He's sometimes affecting (especially when waiting until he's in his dead son's room in the middle of a post-funeral reception to weep), but, like fellow British thespian Ben Kingsley, he doesn't come off as particularly comfortable in front of the camera. He holds the character in too tight -- everything he does seems overcalculated and overstressed, as if every onscreen moment were an individual audition for an Academy Award -- so his supposedly laid-back physician character is off-putting in his every-second, scrunched-up intensity. His Dr. Fowler is as overly tense when writing out a prescription as he is later brandishing a handgun. Sissy Spacek is adequate, but nothing more; very little in the way of variety or shading is contributed, and you can't help but feel that Spacek (who was the only weak link in David Lynch's phenomenal The Straight Story) is becoming more of a liability than a strength to a film. (Annette Bening could have done the role much, much better.) Nick Stahl, as the doomed son, does what he can with an inconsistently written part, but Marisa Tomei is spot-on perfection as the fatal object of his desires, and proves her (deserved) Oscar win for My Cousin Vinny was no fluke. William Mapother, though, is palpably bad. It's no accident how he got cast -- he's Tom Cruise's real-life cousin, and Cruise co-starred with Field in Stanley Kubrick's final film, Eyes Wide Shut (which made a much more incisive study of domestic instability than this overpraised wank-fest) -- yet it's reprehensible that he was allowed to get away with such a one-dimensional portrait as is on dubious display here. There isn't a single believable moment when he's on-screen (though it does say quite a lot about the film that he manages to give the worst performance yet contributes the most creditable Maine accent.)

I detested this film from beginning to end. It's a film out to push buttons in the most glaringly obvious ways, to manipulate as if all audiences were obtuse buffoons who needed everything spelled out to them like items to be fetched from supermarket shelves from a homemaker's master list. It's hard to single out which is the most blatantly insulting bit. Whether it's: the father's elderly patient mentioning the doctor's father, just so it can be brought up that he is, in fact, dead (top-heavy shadowing to say the least, wouldn't you say?); a young girl in the mother's choir class revealed to have a blood-splotched eye; the father looking at an x-ray of a head when he gets a phone call that his son, who's just had his brains blown out, is dead. You can go on and on. And when Field isn't bombarding us with grandiose touches (like having one of the father's card-playing buddies quote Blake and Woodsworth at the gambling table), he's always pointing up the obvious. This actor/director doesn't allow us the aesthetic leeway to have a goddamned honest emotion -- he's always crowding us -- and he's set his characters up in some kind of pop-culture vacuum, as well. When the rich-offspring murderer of the local fishery tycoon is set free on bond and assured a light criminal sentence, not once does a passing mention of O.J. Simpson gets uttered; and the Fowlers appear to be existing in the fictional realm of a tv-movie given their blithering ignorance as to the all-too-familiar impending doom their son's love affair has clearly earmarked for him. When a film portends to expound upon the human condition while relying on tired and easily recognized familiarities, its maker's storytelling methods emit just as repugnant an air as the cold-blooded murderer in the midst of their sham of a tale.

Don't be fooled by its artsy deliberateness -- this is shameless filmmaking at its worst.

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originally posted: 01/24/03 05:10:15
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User Comments

9/22/17 morris campbell in the bedroom the boredom begins crap imho 1 stars
6/03/15 Jamie smoldering, brillant acting, incredibly superb. 5 stars
2/27/06 Steven Lewis Just wasn't that interesting... 2 stars
2/01/06 jcjss wow 5 stars
1/17/06 cody a movie with good story and good perfomances, shocking ending 3 stars
11/12/05 Stewart I hate this film with a burning passion! It is extraordinarily depressing and boring. 1 stars
8/27/05 ES too slow, movie shifts gears too much, characters are quiet like puppets with no puppeteers 1 stars
11/15/04 DM What the fuck is wrong with Jack Sommersby? 5 stars
2/24/04 Joe it was nice until the silly ending 2 stars
1/19/04 LIAM JACKSON i'm sorry but stahl deserved to get shot. you don't mow another guy's lawn! 5 stars
8/31/03 I Would Ponderious, soap opera style script and pretentiously directed, leave this one alone. 2 stars
6/23/03 the Grinch Not the best theatre film, but it's nasty and involving this one... 4 stars
6/09/03 Jon Lyrik Great acting, dire TV movie-esque writing, story and directing. 2 stars
1/05/03 y2mckay basic revenge drama greatly elevated by Tom Wilkinson 4 stars
12/29/02 Jack Sommersby Shameless, underwritten, and repugnant. 1 stars
12/23/02 Iris Dementia Praecox Victims blame victims until vigilanteism is carried out. Gruckin' foovy! 2 stars
11/16/02 Big Ted Where is Tom Wilkinson's Oscar!!! 5 stars
9/29/02 Peter Sherlock Good stuff! 4 stars
9/26/02 Ken I reject the belief that all movies must have total resolution. 5 stars
9/24/02 Susan Merritt was an extremely moving film that stays with you. Tom Wilkinson was perfection ! 5 stars
9/01/02 Doc Shock **yawn** zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz 2 stars
8/24/02 spyguy2 Powerful stuff. This one gets inside you and sits for awhile. 5 stars
8/19/02 The Bomb 69 good acting but the story just didn't play out to be real, emotions were funny, slow 3 stars
3/26/02 Tracy Frummond Wilkinson should've been 4th in best actor race, still better than chosen winner. 3 stars
3/25/02 Iris Dementia Praecox Victims blame victims until vigilanteism is carried out. Gruckin' foovy! 2 stars
3/23/02 Gina Westbrook Makes CDER HSE RULES, where Maine is at least an EQ. OPPRTUNTY redneck state, look better! 2 stars
3/17/02 Teresa Great movie. I would never tell anyone, "Go see it." It is very heavy. 4 stars
3/16/02 Ziggy Stardust if you're relaxed and at peace, you'll enjoy this movie. 5 stars
3/15/02 the movie moose In The Bedroom is the best, most influential film of 2001 period 5 stars
3/13/02 Jimbo Very good film. Contemporary storyline. Slow but slow is good sometimes. 4 stars
3/12/02 spaceworm Tom Wilkenson is [pick your superlative]. 5 stars
3/05/02 amir bama 5 stars
3/05/02 luka1717 i expected alot more from this, it was very slow and very boring for the most part 2 stars
2/23/02 hamad sex photos 1 stars
2/21/02 vanilla quiche suh-looooooow film, amazing acting 4 stars
2/17/02 Bueller Bring your heart and brain with you for this one. Want brain candy? See an Ahh-nold flick. 4 stars
2/17/02 AgentDS Pretty good, but overhyped. 4 stars
2/02/02 elizaveta Son getting shot was very predictable; I didn't buy the ending. 3 stars
1/30/02 Jon Jackson What's all the fuss? Where's the story? BORING! 2 stars
1/30/02 Carly Tense, but also overrated and anticlimactic. 3 stars
1/24/02 Albie Wilkinson deserves an Oscar..moving and well acted flick 5 stars
1/24/02 Paco A very adult movie...quiet and heartbreaking 5 stars
1/20/02 HATTAN1978 sex 5 stars
1/20/02 Bonne Great movie 4 stars
1/20/02 Belinda Its about time! Something worth the money. 5 stars
1/20/02 Sarah Stratton A great thinking movie--don't see it if you aren't going to think about it after it's over. 5 stars
1/19/02 Ken Pretentious and overwrought--avoid at all costs 1 stars
1/19/02 Suzz good but overrated; The Deep End was better 4 stars
1/18/02 Jason Moana Really well told story -- a movie you will think about, and enjoy, for a long time. 4 stars
1/14/02 Robert Brilliantly acted and thoughtfully done. 4 stars
1/13/02 daniboy pretty overrated. still a good movie though 3 stars
1/08/02 puckfreak ??? If you enjoyed "You can count on me" then you'll like this. 2 stars
12/13/01 Heather Haunting, moving movie about parents who have lost their son, great acting from Sissy & Tom 5 stars
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  25-Dec-2001 (R)



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