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Tough Love


In the Bedroom

Todd Field, USA, 2001

Rating: 4.2



Posted: January 6, 2002

By Laurence Station

At its core, In the Bedroom is about the price men are willing to pay to please and be with the women they love. Directed by Todd Field and based on a short story by the late Andre Dubus, the film doesn't address this theme overtly, but rather through the actions and (more importantly) reactions of the characters involved, which bind it to a logical structure that otherwise might have fallen apart given the events that take place during the movie's alarming climax.

Set during summertime in the picturesque fishing town of Camden, Maine, In the Bedroom examines the lives of Matt Fowler (brilliantly handled by veteran actor Tom Wilkinson) and his choral director wife, Ruth (a great Sissy Spacek). Both are concerned about the increasingly serious relationship between their college-aged son Frank (Nick Stahl) and Natalie (beautifully handled by Marisa Tomei), a woman ten years his senior. Compounding matters are Natalie's two young boys and the unwanted presence of her estranged husband, Richard (an appropriately menacing William Mapother).

When Frank informs his father that, rather than head off to graduate school to become an architect, he might simply take up lobster trawling for a living in order to remain close to Natalie and her boys, the expected family crisis ensues. Ruth can't abide the thought of her only child throwing away his future on a woman who isn't even divorced from her first husband, while Matt remains stubbornly convinced that Frank will eventually do the right thing and head off to school.

Sadly, tragedy intervenes in the form of the bitterly jealous Richard, whose fateful confrontation with Frank triggers a devastating string of events that forever changes the lives of all involved. The cracks in Matt and Ruth's marriage takes center stage as the seemingly well-adjusted couple is forced to deal with the grief over what's happened and the lack of communication that has steadily eroded the bedrock of their marriage over the years.

The ultimate action the couple takes to, literally, save their marriage, if not their very sanity, proves the film's riskiest move. But it works simply because of the deeper issue of a husband's loyalty to his wife and the strength the two draw from one another to live through a terrible situation.

In the Bedroom bravely addresses the impossibility of finding true justice when the hurt is so deep, and the loss so great, that no amount of judicial punishment can fill the void.

Antonio Calvache's photography compares to painter Andrew Wyeth's haunting canvas "Christina's World," and the film pays its debt to Wyeth and the idyllic yet strangely tragic images he produced throughout the film. The score is appropriately understated, never getting in the way of the dramatic interplay between the characters. The acting is simply peerless.

On the downside, Field allows the film to drag a bit during the middle third, and poker playing scenes that have one of Matt's friends reciting poems by Blake and Frost come across as a little too obviously connected to the plot at hand.

In the Bedroom is a tough, honest movie, one that might have shined even brighter had it not relied on shocking surprises, instead simply laying its cards on the table from the outset and working backwards to show how its characters reached their current situation. As it is, the film is still head and shoulders above the average fare, revealing an undeniably potent intensity that lingers long after the lights have gone up in the theater.

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: A masterpiece
 4.0-4.9: Exceptional

 3.0-3.9: Solid fare

 2.0-2.9: The mediocrities...
 1.1-1.9: Poor
 0.0-1.0: Utter dreck
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