Mar 30, 2015

Review: In the Bedroom (2001)

Todd Field seems to be more of an actor than a writer/director if you go by his filmography, but I believe his true passion lies in the latter. After a string of short films through the early to mid-90s, Field penned In the Bedroom with Robert Festinger as an adaptation of Andre Dubus' short story Killings. He also directed it and was met with some very positive critical reception. Nominated in five categories at the Academy Awards, In The Bedroom unfortunately went empty-handed at the end of the night.

In the Bedroom might seem like a risqué title, but it's actually just a metaphor having to do with lobster fishing. The story is set in Maine where lobsters are a big deal. The title refers to the fact that lobster traps are really only made to house two lobsters at a time. Once a third one enters, a fight will most likely break out which is why lobster traps have to be emptied at least once a day unless you happen to like dead lobsters or ones with missing limbs. There's a scene early on in the film that talks about this and it's cleverly woven into the story. 


Genre: crime, drama
Directed by: Todd Field
Produced by: Todd Field, Ross Katz, Graham Leader, etc.
Written by: Robert Festinger, Todd Field
Music by: Thomas Newman
Running time: 131 minutes
Production company: Good Machine, Standard Film Company, GreeneStreet Films
Distributed by: Miramax, Good Machine International, New Films International, etc.
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: $1,700,000
Box office: $43,368,779 (Worldwide)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Tom Wilkinson, Sissy Spacek, Nick Stahl, Marisa Tomei, William Mapother, William Wise, Celia Weston, Karen Allen, Frank T. Wells, W. Clapham Murray, Justin Ashforth



Home for the summer, college graduate Frank Fowler (Nick Stahl) starts a relationship with Natalie Strout (Marisa Tomei) who's older than he is and has two young children. His father Matt (Tom Wilkinson) isn't particularly bothered by the relationship, but his mother Ruth (Sissy Spacek) isn't quite as forgiving. Despite pressure from his parents, Frank is no longer sure if he really wants to go to graduate school and leave Natalie behind. The situation complicates itself further when Natalie's ex-husband makes a return (William Mapother).


Tension is ever-present in In the Bedroom, but it starts off very gently. This all begins with the slight disapproval from Frank's parents in regards to his relationship with Natalie and there's also the scene where we see Richard the ex-husband make his first appearance. This approach might end up seeming quite slow and maybe even boring to some viewers, but I see it as some very competent writing and direction from Todd Field. The pacing of In the Bedroom is very measured and Field is well in control at all times.

Once we reach the halfway point, tension goes through the roof and this is where the film's conflict between characters truly begins. What ends up happening is brilliantly foreshadowed earlier on without being all obvious about it too which is nice. I'm especially a fan of the tension that slowly bubbles between Wilkinson and Spacek's characters, but the way in which tensions exists between all the characters is very well handled. Whether it's between Ruth and Natalie or Matt and Richard, nothing is superficial.

The way in which grief is portrayed is another huge success for In the Bedroom. I don't really want to give away any spoilers, but what I'll say is that the different ways of dealing with loss are very well explored. What's great is that Field never really takes a side. There never really is a "right way" of grieving although what happens as a result of grief in ItB is definitely up for debate.

Acting-wise, Field gets some masterful performances out of Tom Wilkinson, Sissy Spacek and Marisa Tomei. It's absolutely no surprise that this trio were up for awards at the Academy Awards. Even though they didn't win, it takes nothing away from what they've accomplished here. William Mapother is also quite good at being that ex-husband scumbag while also injecting a little bit of nuance when he can.

I also was very impressed at how much better In the Bedroom looks than its $1.7 million budget would suggest. Field is well in control of his camera while keeping things relatively steady and unmoving. That changes completely once there's a very critical argument between Ruth and Matt where Field changes everything and follows the characters through their house in handheld style. It's a very effective way of getting across how crucial this scene is and shows just how much Field put into planning everything out.

In the Bedroom delivers everything a drama/crime movie should. Along with some wonderful performances, the story is captivating and the tension that grows is palpable. Some viewers might be turned off by the slow cooker approach, but I think it's well executed as far as story development goes. If you give it a chance, In the Bedroom impresses in a big way.



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