In the Bedroom (United States, 2001)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

In the Bedroom is arguably one of the year's most anticipated independent releases - a movie whose incessant buzz at Sundance carried it at the crest of a wave to Toronto, then placed it in theaters before the end of the year. For those unable to catch it at a festival, the mainstream release is unquestionably worth the wait.

The feature debut of Todd Field, In the Bedroom deals with issues that are rarely approached with this degree of sensitivity on film. The movie, which transpires in Maine, stars Tom Wilkinson and Sissy Spacek as Matt and Ruth Fowler, a seemingly perfect middle-aged couple. Their only son, Frank (Nick Stahl), is spending the summer on a boat lobstering before going off to an Ivy League school in the fall. His latest girlfriend, Natalie Strout (Marisa Tomei), is a much older woman with two young children. These characters are bound together when a criminal act results in a tragedy.

The movie is close to flawless in the way it constructs the scenario. The first portions effectively develop the characters in ways that draw the audience into the story. The crime is presented in a stark and shocking fashion, and its multi-faceted impact is detailed in a manner that is as non-manipulative as it is powerful. In the Bedroom shows how the pressure of a tragedy can put strain on even the most solid marriage. For Matt and Ruth, their quiet camaraderie gradually dissolves into anger and recrimination. One explosive confrontation between them leads directly to an action that brings catharsis and closure to one while causing the other to engage in deeper soul-searching.

The movie also presents some of the most poignant reminders of the little things that often cause the greatest pain in the wake of a tragedy. The narrative gathers an unwavering momentum as it moves towards the potentially inevitable climax. In the Bedroom also addresses the frustration and anguish of crime victims, especially in cases when the perpetrators of a crime appear beyond the reach of legal punishment. The tendency in motion pictures these days is to develop sympathy for the criminal; it is rare that a film addresses the other side of the equation with this degree of intelligence and sensitivity.

The performances are all astonishing. Wilkinson, perhaps best known for his work in The Full Monty, imbues Matt with a quiet dignity, a deep wellspring of grief, and a simmering fury. Sissy Spacek presents Ruth as a volcano that lies dormant for a while before erupting. Nick Stahl brings depth and strength to a character that could have turned into a one-dimensional type. Marisa Tomei impresses in yet another supporting role far away from the Hollywood spotlight (although her inconsistent New England accent is a little distracting).

In the Bedroom is the kind of motion picture that it's almost impossible to forget. It has an impact that stays with the viewer long after the theater has been vacated - this is a hallmark of a powerful movie. It epitomizes what an American independent film can be when the director is willing to abandon the safety net.

In the Bedroom (United States, 2001)

Ranked #3 in Berardinelli's Top 10 of 2001
Run Time: 2:16
U.S. Release Date: 2001-11-23
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Violence)
Genre: DRAMA
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2:35:1