In the Bedroom

In the Bedroom (15)

IN A fair world this gut-wrenching family drama should have been one of the big hitters at last weekend’s Oscars. At least it racked up three nominations for stars Tom Wilkinson, Sissy Spacek and Marisa Tomei.

A haunting portrait of emotional desolation set in a small American town it tells of the devastation wrought on a middle-aged doctor and his wife after their son is shot dead by his older girlfriend’s jealous estranged husband.

The story is a simple one. Frank and Nat (Nick Stahl and Tomei) strike up a summer romance. He is 19, likes her kids and she likes him despite the age difference. Looming on the horizon is her violent husband.

Frank’s mother (Spacek in a fine return to form) warns ominously that it will all end in tears. Husband Matt (Wilkinson, absolutely magnificent), on the other hand, urges caution and believes it will blow itself out.

It ends in murder.

Debut director Todd Field sets up the death – sudden and utterly unexpected – like Hitchcock did with Janet Leigh in Psycho. The moment of shocking violence pulls the rug out from beneath the audience’s feet, completely shifting the dynamic of the picture and galvanising Spacek, Wilkinson and Tomei into giving the performances of their careers.

The boy’s death splits his parents in two. Their journey towards the film’s eventual denouement is powerful in the extreme, offering a long, hard look at grief and the devastation wrought by loss. Fragmented, tense and emotionally draining, In the Bedroom is as powerful in its way as Mike Nicholls’ Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

The primary charge comes from the collapse of Wilkinson and Spacek’s relationship and the acting of the two principals involved. Wilkinson, nominated for his first Oscar, builds to a crescendo of anguish and raw rage while Spacek, also Oscar-nominated, gradually implodes, shutting out her husband and denouncing him as impotent, powerless and spineless.

Tomei also scores highly as the young mum caught in a domestic trap of her own choosing. Too long out in the cold, she has returned to dramatic acting in a heavyweight drama that packs a genuine punch. Her nomination as best supporting actress means she is back in the big time.

While Denzel Washington genuinely deserves an Academy Award for his superb screen work, his role in Training Day was not it. His win means the better performance – Wilkinson’s – was unforgivably overlooked.

In the Bedroom has received a scattered release outside London. Try and catch it if it is playing near you.

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