Main cast: Tom Wilkinson (Dr Matt Fowler), Sissy Spacek (Ruth Fowler), Nick Stahl (Frank Fowler), Marisa Tomei (Natalie Strout), William Mapother (Richard Strout), William Wise (Willis Grinnel), and Celia Weston (Katie Grinnel)
Director: Todd Field
Todd Field’s directorial debut, In the Bedroom, is a movie that doesn’t know what it wants to be: a romance, a drama, or a noir film. It tries to be all three, trying on each as if it is trying on clothes for a party, and the final product is something vaguely unsatisfying. If there is a clear cohesion between the transitions, this movie would have worked better.
It starts out a cheerful movie, as college kid Frank Fowler, back on his summer vacation, embarks on an affair with an older woman, Natalie Strout. His parents Matt and Ruth can only watch, not knowing whether to find comfort that this affair is most likely not serious. Natalie has kids, mind you, and her estranged husband is still around, abusive and nasty.
But Frank is showing signs of feeling more than he lets on to Natalie and his parents. He starts planning on postponing his education to stay around, and he even starts letting on about staying around with Natalie. Natalie, the pragmatic one, is torn.
Then Natalie’s hubby shows up and kills Frank. The movie then switches gear to focus on parents Ruth and Matt and their grieving and trying to cope with the loss of their son. Matt keeps it all in, Ruth blames everyone, and it is like having a raw nerve laced with salt watching Tom Wilkinson and Sissy Spacek putting on the performances of their lives. Ms Spacek is very effective as the angry mother, but Mr Wilkinson is the most memorable as the multifaceted father – a pleasant, mild-mannered man whose bottled-up anger finally unleashes a violent denouement. In the end, poor Matt is the more damaged of the two.
The ending scene is haunting and bittersweet – vengeance is Matt’s, but oh, at what cost? But the scenes leading to the ending is a sudden change from drama to action, almost noirish style, that has me gaping at the screen. What happened?
Marisa Tomei is also good as poor, pragmatic Natalie, while Nick Stahl plays Frank rightly as a young man who is out of his league but tries so hard to grow up for Natalie. The romantic in me, one that wants happy endings, wish that Frank will show up, alive and well, and steer this movie back to romance. But the jaded part of me appreciate Ms Spacek and Mr Wilkinson’s powerful acting in the dramatic middle. I’m just baffled by the vigilante-tinged last leg of this movie.
As this movie divides my attention into three smaller parts, never letting me fully segue my feelings about this movie into one cohesive definition, it never succeeds in capturing me fully. Is In the Bedroom good? You bet. But is it great? Maybe, if it can make up its mind what it wants to be.