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Finely acted 'Bedroom' explores depth of grief

Tuesday, December 25, 2001

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Some movies traffic in an almost pornographic portrayal of grief. The camera lingers on the face of the person receiving the bad news, as the state-of-the-art sound system sends shrieks and sobs ricocheting around the theater.

But in the movie "In the Bedroom," opening today at the Manor Theater, director Todd Field does something very interesting. He shows us a man hearing the worst news ever over the phone, and then we see him slowly walking down a hallway, about to deliver the same devastating information to his unsuspecting wife. And mercifully and unexpectedly, the camera cuts away.

"In the Bedroom"

Rating: R for some violence and language.

Starring: Sissy Spacek, Tom Wilkinson.

Director: Todd Field.

Critics' call:


"In the Bedroom," the movie that has Sissy Spacek being touted as a surefire Oscar candidate for the first time in 15 years, is an exceptionally well-acted and wrenching drama. It takes us to a seaside Maine town where Dr. Matt Fowler (Tom Wilkinson) and his choral-music teacher wife, Ruth (Spacek), lead a fulfilling and uneventfully idyllic life.

Matt, a native whose father was a fisherman, sees patients in his small office, and Ruth is spending the summer readying a choir for a Labor Day concert. They're both Ivy League grads and their only child, a son named Frank (Nick Stahl), happily is working as a part-time lobsterman to earn money for graduate school in the fall. Frank has become involved with an older woman, Natalie (Marisa Tomei), who has two young sons and a rancorous relationship with her estranged husband (William Mapother).

The Fowlers are so nice that they put up a swing set in their back yard, so Natalie's boys can play there. They accompany Frank to the youngsters' baseball game; sitting in their lawn chairs on the fringe of the field, they look like surrogate grandparents. Matt views the Frank-Natalie affair with bemusement, while Ruth worries that Frank should be thinking about school, not a sexy, single mother. Frank assures his parents it's a summer romance, although he doesn't sound very convincing.

If the opening scene seems reminiscent of "The Summer of '42," what follows is nothing like that coming-of-age story. It's a dark, deep exploration of people who are driven by love, jealousy, friendship, grief that gnaws at their souls and moral compasses, vengeance, and a search for peace and justice that they think is attainable.

The title can be interpreted several ways, including as a reference to too many lobsters caught in a trap. Older females bursting with eggs can present a special danger; they can take out two or three males, we're told. And any time a hand is thrust into the metal cage, there's always the danger that blood will be drawn.

Blood is drawn here, in surprising ways and with surprising results. Spacek and Wilkinson are equally excellent, and they share a scene in which their characters figuratively claw and scratch at each others' flaws, failures and pain until they're raw. It is powerful stuff, as is the movie's haunting final scene and exchange of dialogue.

"In the Bedroom" isn't easy viewing. But, then again, some of the best movies aren't.

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