In The Bedroom

Movie Information

Genre: Drama
Director: Todd Field
Starring: Sissy Spacek, Tom Wilkinson, Nick Stahl, Marisa Tomei, William Mapother
Rated: R

It’s hands down the most positively reviewed film of 2001. It’s hard to find a review of Todd Field’s feature-film directorial debut that is less than glowing. (Though having made several short films and done some TV work, Field is primarily known as an actor. He’s probably most familiar to viewers as Nick Nightingale in Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut.) And it’s not hard to understand why In the Bedroom has garnered this type of enthusiastic response, even though it’s an enthusiasm I can’t completely share. Yes, it’s a good movie and doubtless a deeply felt one, but I don’t personally think it’s a masterpiece. Nor do I think Todd Field’s debut is the most impressive since that of Orson Welles — or more appropriately, perhaps, Ingmar Bergman, to whom he has been compared. This isn’t to say that it’s not an impressive first feature, because it is. It has a basic raw emotional power that is undeniable, and a strong central performance by Sissy Spacek that fully deserves the praise bestowed on it. Similarly, British actor Tom Wilkinson (The Black Knight), sporting a generally believable New England accent, is quite effective as her tormented husband (even though his performance suffers by comparison with Spacek’s seemingly effortless one). The rest of the cast, unfortunately, are not on this level, and some of the minor performances are far from convincing, which is probably the result of Field’s limited independent-film budget. Personally, I have certain reservations about the plot. The film’s advertising tagline — “A young man. An older woman. Her ex-husband. Things are about to explode …” — only offers the basic set-up. Once the referenced explosion occurs, In the Bedroom starts reminding me of any number of revenge dramas centering around the failure of finding justice within the judicial system. It differs from these in approach, centering instead on the complex emotions of Spacek’s and Wilkinson’s characters in a finely detailed series of scenes depicting their inability to communicate with each other, erupting in an uncomfortable confrontation that skillfully blends valid accusations on both parts with the wilder paranoid overstatements inherent in any such argument. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a more realistic depiction of a volatile encounter of this nature — two people unleashing pent-up rage and hostility that is both on-target and misdirected at the same time — and for this alone, the actors and the film deserve considerable praise. There are, however, other aspects of the film I am just not able to view in this light. It tries to be too literary in its structure and approach. The device of foreshadowing the events to come with a sequence involving the explanation of the ferocity of an egg-laden female lobster comes across as heavy-handed and is the sort of thing that would probably work better in print than in a movie. And this is symptomatic of the problems I have with the film overall. Field is trying just too hard to make a film that is completely removed from what we think of as a “Hollywood picture,” and in so doing he limits himself too much to what sometimes seems like enforced naturalism. There are two sequences of overt violence in the film, and both are so deliberately underplayed and devoid of any cinematic approach that they fall flat for me and lose much of their dramatic impact. This is obviously an attempt at depicting the scenes in a wholly realistic manner, but I don’t feel that it works in the film’s favor. This is especially true of the film’s denouement, in part because the scenes leading up to it are quite the most cinematic and atmospheric in the movie, building up to a payoff that ultimately seems perfunctory. The idea is likely to convey the sense of dissatisfaction — of the hollow “victory” — of the occurrence itself, but, for me, it’s a self-defeating approach that just doesn’t work. It does, however, seem to work for many people, so bear that in mind. In the Bedroom is undeniably an important film and one that should be seen, even if I didn’t find it quite the great film it’s supposed to be.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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