Friday, October 16, 2009

2001 - In the Bedroom

A couple of days ago, I finally got around to seeing Inglourious Basterds. Quite the powerhouse movie. I think it may be Tarantino's best yet. And a potential Best Picture nominee for next year. What's with the weird spelling of the title, though? Anyway, it seems to have got me excited for the slew of Oscar bait films that will be released in the coming months prior to the nominations.

Immediately after seeing it, I had the opportunity to be inspired by another piece of entertainment. One of the perks of my ushering job is that I occasionally get to work during a special preview performance of an upcoming show. On Thursday, I sat in on a rehearsed reading of a new musical entitled Red Sox Nation. A very moving show indeed. But more than that, it co-starred Cousin Larry! I grew up on Perfect Strangers, so standing not two feet from Mark Linn-Baker was somewhat of a minor thrill.

Yesterday, I watched the final 2001 Best Picture nominee...

In The Bedroom
Todd Field
Rob Festinger and Todd Field
(based on the short story "Killings" by Andre Dubus)
Tom Wilkinson, Sissy Spacek, Nick Stahl, Marisa Tomei, William Mapother
Academy Awards:
5 nominations
0 wins

If you haven't seen In the Bedroom, I recommend you see it first before reading my thoughts because this is yet another film that is difficult to discuss without revealing important plot points. Right, so, if you're still reading, I'll assume you've either seen it already or don't give a tinker's cuss if I ruin it for you. So, here goes...

Set in a small coastal town in Maine, In the Bedroom follows the story of Matt and Ruth Fowler, an average couple who endure a suffering to which no family should be subjected. Their son, Frank, who should be off to college shortly, is dating Natalie, an older woman with two cute kids and a violent ex-husband. None too pleased that he's been replaced by the young whipper-snapper, Natalie's ex trashes her home and in an ensuing argument, kills Frank. The Fowlers are obviously devastated, but when legal proceedings result in the killer being released on bail until the criminal trial, Matt and Ruth find themselves cooped up in a small town with the man who murdered their son, a hardship that begins to unravel their marriage.

Well, the fact that this film and The Fellowship of the Ring were nominated for the same award does seem somewhat ridiculous. They are opposite ends of the film-making spectrum. The former is big, loud and fantastical, while the latter is small, quiet and subtle. Both legitimate and entertaining, but near impossible to compare with one another. But I'll discuss more of that in my next post when I have to somehow choose a winner.

In the Bedroom contains basket loads of that stuff I missed in Fellowship - subtext. There is so much going on underneath the words and so much bubbling under the surface of the characters that the audience has to figure things out on their own. Nothing is forced down our throats. In fact, quite the opposite. Some scenes are just left to our imagination. When Matt has the unthinkable task of informing Ruth of their son's death, we are only shown his arrival at the school where she works. He sees her in the middle of a choir rehearsal and that's it. And yet that's enough. From these subtle images, we understand just how impossibly tough this is going to be for Matt. Brilliant storytelling.

And that kind of storytelling is utilised often throughout the film creating a constant mood of tension. Yes, it takes its time and I confess I did wish on occasion that things would move along a tad quicker, but that was partly due to the discomfort one experiences when watching these events unfold. A positive side effect of this method of film-making is it is truly unpredictable. Although, having seen this film once before, it obviously lost some of its unpredictability, but the tension most definitely remained. But I do think that, once again, like A Beautiful Mind, I enjoyed this film just a little less this time around.

There is no doubt, however, that this genre of film is right up my alley. Probably because it is very much an actor's movie. So much subtlety and naturalism. And this cast does not disappoint. Oscar-winners Sissy Spacek and Marisa Tomei both received nominations here, as did Tom Wilkinson. I especially enjoyed Celia Weston's performance as a friend of the Fowlers.

Well, the verdict is up next and this one is going to be a doozy. No idea yet which way I'm going to fall.

1 comment:

  1. So Matt, you met Benjy Stone from "My Favorite Year." My favorite Mark Linn-Baker line from that movie: "Catherine, Jews know two things: suffering, and where to find great Chinese food."

    "In the Bedroom" was easily the most personal of the five nominated films of 2001. When it was released, my two sons were of a similar age as was Frank, and I was about Matt's age. I could actually feel the grief, anger and rage the parents were going through.

    What an assured directorial debut for actor Todd Field. In some ways it reminded me of Robert Redford's debut as a director with "Ordinary People." Field's compositions and observations were nearly flawless. He seemed to purposefully avoid showing scenes most filmmakers would have shown: Richard's first assault on Frank, the thrashing of the house, the actually shooting of Frank (necessarily off camera to lend plausibility to the trial charges) and as you pointed out Matt, the father breaking the news of the death to his wife.

    I'm glad you mentioned Celia Weston, Matt. She reminds me of the great Hollywood character actresses of the past like - Beulah Bondi, Ethel Barrymore and Edna May Oliver. I loved the scene where she is talking about her grandchildren to Sissy Spacek and mentioned that their bloodline is secured, and immediately realizes her faux pas. Rather than embarrassingly changing the subject, she tearfully tells Spacek, whose bloodline is permanently severed how sorry she is. It's a beautifully rendered scene by both actors.

    I'd only seen "In the Bedroom" in the theater and once when I bought the DVD. This was my third viewing, and my appreciation of it is still very high, though it will probably be a long time until my next viewing.