Imagine a movie that tried to be very accurate about clinical depression. There would have to be hours and hours of a man or woman lying in bed, listening to the clock tick away the seconds. In the Bedroom, which stars Sissy Spacek and Tom Wilkinson as bereaved parents, tries to do something similar with grief. When Ruth and Matt Fowler lose their son Frank (Nick Stahl), who's killed by his girlfriend's ex-husband, grief descends upon them like a shroud. Ruth plants herself in front of the TV, not bothering to look up when Matt comes home from work. And Matt? Zombie-like, he goes through the motions. We've all heard about the five stages of death and dying. But what about when it's your child who's dead? Does anger give way to acceptance?
Not here. Instead, as in some Charles Bronson movie, it leads to a lust for revenge ' a restrained lust because this is, after all, an 'independent' movie made on a modest budget. Adapted from a short story by Andre Dubus, In the Bedroom tries very hard to stick to its knitting, and so we are never shown anything that might not happen in real life. The performances have a lived-in quality as well. But the movie's virtues may also be its vices. Maybe it's too much like real life, emotionally aimless. Eventually, the plot kicks in ' boy, does it kick in. Before that, we sit and watch as Ruth and Matt do their respective slow burns, then boil over into rage and recrimination. Who knew how bad their marriage had become?
Their son, perhaps. In the Bedroom keeps Frank around long enough to endear him to us, though not long enough to explain him to us. Why does he seem almost too good to be true? We also get to meet Marisa Tomei's Natalie, who has a few years on Frank, not to mention a pair of sons from her marriage. Most movies would focus on Natalie as she fends off her abusive ex-spouse and tries to strike out on her own, and so we almost feel cheated when this one turns out to be about Ruth and Matt. Still, Natalie is the movie's linchpin. Ruth wanted Frank to leave Natalie behind lest he jeopardize his plans for graduate school, but Matt rather likes having her shapely body around. In their own ways, both parents were living their lives through their son.
Director Todd Field, who's mostly worked as an actor, doesn't try to blow us away with cinematic effects. The movie's set in a Maine fishing village, and Field lets the landscapes and seascapes arrange themselves into pretty pictures. Ruth is shown reading a book about the Wyeths ' N.C. the illustrator, Andrew the painter. And you sense that Field wanted to catch the latter's laconic way with a brush. Nothing's forced, and yet there's the smell of blood in the air. Only once does In the Bedroom allow a crack in its smoothly realistic surface, when a poker buddy of Matt's starts quoting William Blake. Otherwise, the movie's as free of artifice as the East European folk songs that Ruth specializes in.
Ruth somehow becomes the villain of the piece ' something between the Mary Tyler Moore character in Ordinary People and Lady Macbeth. And Spacek, whose skin, though blotched with freckles and creased with wrinkles, is still stretched across her skull, seems perfect for the role. But it's kind of hard to tell, because she hasn't been given much to do other than grieve. There's no dramatic arc to the performance, little sense of starting in one place and finishing in another. Ruth was an uptight bitch before her son was murdered, and she's an uptight bitch afterwards, although there's a slight indication that she may loosen up in the future. In the Bedroom should have loosened up a bit, if you ask me. All that darkness could use some illumination.