The movie version of Jane Hamilton's A Map of the World has finally arrived in Madison, and I'm glad/sad to report that it's neither as bad as I feared nor as good as I hoped it would be. Sigourney Weaver stars as Alice Goodwin, a school nurse/farm wife in rural Wisconsin who hasn't even begun to get over the drowning of a small child in the Goodwins' pond (while Alice was baby-sitting) when she's slapped with a separate child-abuse suit and thrown in jail. It's clearly a case of bad things happening to good people, but Alice, a headstrong woman due for a fall, doesn't see it that way; all but blameless, she carries around enough guilt to fuel an entire Dostoyevsky novel.
Of course, Alice's loss is Sigourney's gain, and Weaver tears into her role like a hungry coyote. She has the courage, if not quite the talent, of a great actress, and I loved the way she lets her face harden into a hideous mask of pain. Julianne Moore is routinely excellent as a woman who loses both her daughter and her best friend, and David Strathairn turns in another of his trademark Nowhere Man performances as Alice's strong, silent husband. Like the novel, the movie's a real downer, but, to its credit, it never wallows in pain. Alas, the one thing that director Scott Elliott hasn't been able to transfer to the screen is the redemptive grace of Hamilton's prose.