Thursday 10 June 2021

Movie Review: In The Bedroom (2001)

A family drama with crime elements, In The Bedroom quietly explores a marriage under severe stress, and emotional endurance tested by a frustrating justice system.

Matt and Ruth Fowler (Tom Wilkinson and Sissy Spacek) are a middle-aged couple living in the lobster fishing community of Camden, Maine. Matt is a doctor and a veteran of the Navy, while Ruth is a music teacher, and together they are slightly bewildered as their college-aged son Frank (Nick Stahl) enjoys a summer romance with older divorcee Natalie (Marisa Tomei). She has two young kids from no-good ex-husband Richard Strout (William Mapother), the scion of the family operating the local cannery.

Ruth is worried Frank will throw away his college future to spend more time with Natalie, but Matt is more accommodating of his son's liaison. When Richard returns and starts to harass Natalie, Frank feels obligated to intervene, triggering events that will test every aspect of Matt and Ruth's lives.

Adding further details to the plot summary would spoil a brooding story of loss, rage and revenge crackling with understated tension. The seemingly routine travails of a small family residing in an idyllic seaside community take a sharp turn into tragedy, rocking the foundations of Matt and Ruth's marriage and flooding their bedroom sanctuary with grief and self-doubt. Director Todd Field co-wrote the script with Robert Festinger as an adaptation of an Andre Dubus short story, and creates an adult-oriented drama with ever-increasing turmoil punctuated by short and sharp eruptions of violence. 

The narrative draws strength from silence and the contrasting characters of Matt and Ruth. He keeps his emotions bottled and approaches every situation with detached calmness. She is a more expressive artist, carrying the weight of worry and more openly disapproving of their son Frank's fling with Natalie. When their world falls apart the creeping hostility between them becomes an impenetrable wall of unstated anger and coiled frustration.

The film is long at 131 minutes, and in the second half Field tests the material's depth with some repetitive scenes underlining already established dynamics. And despite the length, a couple of characters fade out of relevance. But superb performances from Tom Wilkinson and Sissy Spacek, both approaching career peaks, help overcome the slower patches. They are never better than when Matt and Ruth unleash their bottled-up anger at each other in a savage exchange of accusations. The supporting cast includes Karen Allen in a small role as a tough defence attorney.

In The Bedroom is where intimacy and trust reside. Faced with calamity and injustice, Matt and Ruth also need to create space for painful truths and new secrets. 

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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