Sensitive, penetrating performances elevate “In the Bedroom” from melodrama to high art. Todd Field’s script is good, if over-long; his directing style is intuitive, if unspectacular; his actors, though, are masters of their craft.
This is a story of seething anger and long-standing bitterness. The only character to act out rashly is the stupid villain. Everyone else takes his time, simmers, stews and finally acts. It’s a movie that refuses to give cheap, fast thrills, but instead provides satisfaction only after taking us on a long, arduous journey.
Dr. Matt Fowler (Tom Wilkinson) and his wife Ruth (Sissy Spacek) live a well-to-do life in a quiet Maine town with their son Frank (Nick Stahl), who is home from college for the summer. Frank has taken up with Natalie Strout (Marisa Tomei), a working mother who is separated but not yet divorced from the bullyish Richard (William Mapother).
Natalie has two young children and is apparently a few years older than Frank. Still, their unlikely romance blossoms, and they make plans for the future. What began as a summer-only thing starts to look more long-terms.
Matt has a laissez-faire attitude toward his son, whom he loves and trusts, while Ruth worries and pries. Her maternal concern takes form subtly, but she is a controller, no doubt about it.
Forty-five minutes into the film, something terrible happens, and Matt and Ruth are angry. Quietly, calmly angry, but angry nonetheless. What happens from there unfolds slowly and elegiacally. Field seems to mourn along with his characters, and while I can’t say all the lengthy shots of quietude pay off, most of them do. A few deft touches here and there separate this from more pedestrian films.
Sissy Spacek and Tom Wilkinson each deserve Oscar nominations for their work, which is nothing short of brilliant. Ruth’s controlling nature and Matt’s relaxed attitude both are heightened in times of crisis. Their anger doesn’t cause them to lash out and become new people, but rather to magnify the people they already were. And in that regard, Spacek and Wilkinson are dazzling, utterly convincing. You might as well be watching a documentary, for as real as the Fowlers seem.
A- (; )