In the Bedroom Review


“In the Bedroom” is an incredibly thoughtful story about grief, how people cope with it differently, and how these differences drive people apart. This was Todd Field’s directorial debut, and it set the independent film world on fire in 2001. It does a marvelous job of drawing us into the world of these characters, making us care deeply about what happens to them.

Matt and Ruth Fowler (Tom Wilkinson and Sissy Spacek) seem like the perfect couple. They live a quiet life in Maine where Matt runs his own medical practice and Ruth is a music teacher. They have one son, Frank (Nick Stahl), who is preparing to go to college. Frank has recently gotten involved with Natalie Strout (Marisa Tomei), a much older woman with two young children. She is separated from her husband, Richard (William Mapother), but he wants to reconcile with his wife and start over. The more time Frank spends with Natalie, the more jealous Richard gets. And as Richard gets more and more violent, his actions threaten to disrupt a number of lives, including Matt’s and Ruth’s who, after tragedy strikes, realize their marriage may not be as perfect as they thought.

The film is divided into three distinct sections, all of which are nearly perfect. The set-up effectively introduces us to the characters and makes us care about what happens to them, while also building to an important climax. The next section takes up the bulk of the film and deals with the consequences of that climax. It shows how Matt and Ruth decide to cope with what happens. Matt prefers to go back to living his life, while Ruth is a shell of her former self. She can’t do anything but watch TV. She rarely talks to her husband, and when she does, it’s in such a disdainful tone that he doesn’t want to be around her. They finally have it out and say some things they’ve been internalizing for years, but the result of the confrontation leads directly to the final act, which gives one of them closure and forces the other to reflect on everything that’s happened.

The acting is uniformly excellent; Tom Wilkinson, Sissy Spacek, and Marisa Tomei all received well-deserved Oscar nominations. Wilkinson is probably the best of the group. He creates an extremely three-dimensional character in Matt, someone who is passive almost to a fault but is also capable of taking extreme action when compelled. Spacek’s Ruth is overbearing and wants to blame others for what happens, but she also painfully recognizes the indirect role she played. Ruth is equally cruel and sympathetic, and Spacek balances the two wonderfully. Tomei proves her Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1992 (for “My Cousin Vinny”) was not a fluke. Natalie is well-intentioned, but she doesn’t quite know how to deal with her husband or the Fowlers. One scene in which she tries to apologize to Ruth is incredibly powerful. Excellent supporting work is provided by Nick Stahl and William Mapother.

This was Todd Field’s directorial debut, and it set the independent film world on fire in 2001. It does a marvelous job of drawing us into the world of these characters, making us care deeply about what happens to them. It’s one of the finest examples of thoughtful character development in years (perhaps since “The Deer Hunter”). The scenes of Frank and Natalie discussing her children are heart-warming. And when Richard’s violence changes things, the situation is presented simply but shockingly. There is little music and very few directorial flourishes, allowing us to focus completely on these compelling characters and their situations.

Oscar took notice of “In the Bedroom” in 2001. It was deservedly nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay. It should’ve garnered a Best Director nomination for Field. The fact that it was shut out is disappointing, but not at all surprising considering it was up against “A Beautiful Mind,” which is the poster-child for Academy friendly pictures. I think time has been (and will continue to be) friendlier to “In the Bedroom,” especially considering Field’s follow-up “Little Children” nearly equaled his debut in terms of quality. And it deserves to be thought of in this way. “In the Bedroom” is a brilliant, thoughtful, and emotional piece of cinema that everyone should experience.

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