Directed by: Todd Field
Written by: Todd Field, Robert Festinger
Company: Good Machine / Eastern Standard Film Company / GreeneStreet Films
Runtime: 130 minutes
The film is about the Fowlers, a family peacefully living in Mid-Coast Maine.
The father, Matt, is a town doctor who has a pretty good job as a doctor who also works in the fishing industry. He is near retirement, but he does not show any signs of retirement as he has a really good job in his hands as a doctor, and at the same time, he also earns extra money as a fisher.
The mother, Ruth, is a choir director very busy in practicing the choir for a town event. She lives peacefully as everyone does. She smiles almost all the time, but worries a lot whenever her son gets into some trouble.
The son, Frank, is an applicant for graduate school involved in a love affair with a slightly older woman, Natalie, whose ex-husband frequently troubles their rendezvous. Even then, he maintains a harmonious relationship with her children, giving them relief even though there is always a danger of her ex-husband attacking the.
Tragedy strikes the family when Franks was killed by Natalie’s ex-husband. His parents are rocked by this unexpected happening. Now, because of some loophole found in Natalie’s testimonials, her ex-husband was set free by bail. Given that the one who killed their son is freely walking around the town, the couple struggles to cope up with the situation. More affected is Ruth because of the tension she always feel given that the murdered is still free.
This thing in their lives change their relationship. Passion for living was lost and hunger for revenge ensues.
Like Gosford Park, the film took its time in developing the characters to the fullest and for the plot to settle a foundation of the plot. But unlike the former, this film was much better in handling the pace of the story.
The direction is subtle. You don’t even notice it that much if you’re not an alert watcher because it lets the story flow right in front of your eyes. It never tried to get the spotlight that the actors had. Instead, it only served as the guiding light as the scenes progressed. Even then, the expertise in the direction is not to be discounted. It is not filled with vigor, I can assure you that. Instead, it fills up the spaces by bombarding every moment of the screen with attention. It grabs you immediately right from the start and never lets you go until right after the end music played. It is the grip that makes the direction so important in this film. It moves at a very slow pace with small chats and images to give the forward motion the plot needs, but it carefully weaves in all of the elements of the story right into what we see so that we see a movie continuously moving movie that feels authentic.
Another fact is that the film makes a point of bringing is in the film in the situation. We see these scenes featuring the normal country life of the people. Some may ask, “why are they showing us these things when they can use the time in giving more acting chops?” Well, it established the strong sense of place throughout the film. And in the whole span of the film, it is very important because it is what affects the main characters the most – the danger in the place where they live because the murdered of their child could be just around the corner, waiting for them to be killed next. It may not have been the killer’s real intentions, but it is what the main characters feel, especially Ruth, and that is what is most important to a main character – to feel empathy to them.
The screenplay vividly captures the ideal family story and destroys it with such delicate hand that it felt shocking but not in-your-face as some other grief movies may have done. But even if it dealt with grief with more than half of the time, the screenplay never engages itself in pretentious melodrama. Instead, it makes a very cold space between us and the characters. The sadness is repressed all throughout the length of the film and never shatters us with big breakdowns. Instead, it perfectly illustrates how great the damage is for the family by slowly peeling of the multifaceted dimensions of the relationship of the couple Ruth and Matt. It is definitely hypnotizing in its way of internalizing the emotions to the characters that we almost never see the real them, except for some brief yet justified outbursts when you know the characters cannot take it anymore. You feel that there is this ongoing struggle, this emotional turmoil right inside these characters, but somehow, the screenplay pulls back for us not to see the real them.
But in that way, the characters become more realistic. These are the people that we may meet in our environment. It feels very authentic and at the same time, very raw. The story brings out the unflinching reality of the situation and spices up the scenario with some shock value. Again, the shock is not what makes the screenplay effective, but on the way it constructs the whole plot courageously. Even with the final act when it took a detour from the suppressed grief drama to a breathtaking climax that led to one of cinema’s most shocking endings without any shocking images at all., the film brilliantly implants all of the necessary elements of the story to make it plausible and adds a lot of truthful detail in it. It is very courageous in handling the theme of murder and death, but never felt like a show-off.
The cinematography sends the chilling nature of the story. It does not have those eye-popping shots, but it utilizes every simple angle it has to heighten the rush of emotions in the story. Whether it is a wide shot in the bedroom as the murderer packed his things or the slow side shot of Ruth slapping Natalie, it was able to bring out the real emotions of the scene.
The editing was able to crunch the story into the whole time with agonizing sharpness and blinding mystery. The dialogue scenes are given such energy by the editing that you do not get bored by the lengthy chats. Instead, cuts right in the middle of the story with power so rarely seen in these kinds of quiet movies.
The acting reaches the zenith of professionalism an actor could possibly reach.
Tom Wilkinson is excellent as Matt. As the man of the house, there is always a sense of authority and dependability in every scene where he is in. Every move that he makes is a result of Tom Wilkinson’s acting expertise and you know that he is sure of everything but it does not even go near being calculated. You see him at ease, but inside is an internal battle between his need to care for his living wife and his desperation to avenge his son’s death. Whenever he tries to communicate with someone – whether it is his secretary, his wife, his friends – you always feel he is not really up to it, but he really tries to because he knows that there is still a life ahead of them.
On the other end is Sissy in a quietly disturbing performance as Ruth. The effect that the death caused her is very sad, having known to her in the first scenes as a very cheerful, even inspiring, choir director. Immediately after her son’s death, all he wants is justice and peace of mind, but he cannot even have both. This startles her character in the choices that she makes in her daily routine and the power of her subtle movements is already as natural as you can get. There is nothing loud in this performance, and at the same time, you feel that what she brings on the table is a real force of nature. You know this woman, she’s almost tangible. But just after the death, she’s already an emotional wreck whose emotions and problems are already kept in her. She cannot open up because her husband goes on in life. Nobody would even be there to actually stay for her. There is a friend, a priest, but she needs someone much closer to her, and by the tragedy that shook their family, she lost that ability to have a communication. Or did she lose it or she just did not want to have anything to do with the world? Would she just rather prefer to sit in front of the television, endlessly smoking cigarette, or she is just too afraid to face the truth? Her performance leaves us more questions than answers. Even in the end, she hangs us into a degree of uncertainty which an actor can rarely achieve. It is full of nuance and while it is taut, she never lets go of the screen once she appeared on-screen. Very natural, but very otherworldly too.
Marisa Tomei breaks the silence with inspired reservedness. While she has to be overshadowed by the two lead actors, she never submerges herself into the vanishing hole of being a supporting actress. Instead, she paints a character full of life destructed by circumstances. In such a brief time, she successfully created a character that we do not actually depend on, but root for. She is not the strongest person in the story. In fact, she is always threatened every time her ex-husband returns. It repeats a ,lot of times in the film, but her actions and reactions never become monotonous. She is ready to defend her children, but she herself is unsure of what will happen to her and her relationship with Frank. After quite some time, she disappears for a very long time, but she never lets go of you because of the helplessness she illustrated in her early scenes. Her last scene, the famous slapping scene between her and Sissy Spacek, is masterfully acted. She approaches Ruth to extend her hand for help. She’s like a little child – you know she cannot do anything anymore to solve the real problem, but she tries to do anything for Ruth to feel better. And in a slap, she stops. She is in shock and immediately leaves. It’s mind-blowing how she received that rejection of help from Ruth because she definitely does not expect that. Aside from that, she finely crafts the character’s chain of reactions and her reception to he death.
Rounding up the talented cast is Nick Stahl as Frank Fowler. He is the least showiest out of the four main characters, but that does not make his work less important. In his case, what is most important in his character is for him to make a human being that we will actually care for whatever may happen to him. He could have been killed, but the whole thing would not have such power if we did not care for him. True, we were only with him for a very short time, but in his grounding of the character in reality, we did care for him. When he was hit by the man, his parents worry and we worry because he is such a good man with such a bright future and then, he would have this? He did not deserve to be hit, because he did not do anything with the man. So when we already lost him, we know we lost someone. His final scene did not have any acting at all from him – it is just him, lying on the floor, his face hit by the bullet, dead. In that instant, her girlfriend burst to tears, and we also cry not only because she had lost someone, not only because his parents lost someone, but because we lost someone. That’s how important Stahl’s character is, and his vivid interpretation of this character is the soul of this film.
Some may think that this film is too boring, too cold, too quiet, too laborious to watch, too contrived, too everything – do not listen to them. In a year when one of the biggest movies ever made existed, this film should be seen by more people because of the power that it has. It has an overwhelming force that drives you together with the film, and the result is an unabashed masterpiece in American cinema.
For this, the movie gets:
What are your thoughts? Do you agree or not?