Their House Torn Asunder: Novice Director Todd Field's Disturbing Domestic Gem

Article excerpt

Byline: David Ansen

From the opening moments of "In the Bedroom," you can sense that you are watching a director in total control of his movie. Two lovers are running across a field, a young man (Nick Stahl) and his older girlfriend (Marisa Tomei). They fall into the tall grass and kiss, the whip of the summer wind echoing their excitement. The compositions, the editing, the lighting, the sound, the music: everything seems meticulously considered, conjuring up a hushed intimacy that instantly sucks you in. In his powerful first feature, actor turned director Todd Field exhibits a mastery of his craft many filmmakers never acquire in a lifetime. He's deeply attuned to his material, and he takes us with him.

The young man's parents don't approve of the relationship. The Fowlers are an upper-middle-class Maine couple--the father (Tom Wilkinson) a doctor in town, the mother (Sissy Spacek) a specialist in Eastern European music, which she teaches to the high-school choir. Their college-age son shows signs of a bright future as an architect, and here he's fallen for a townie who's several years his senior, a married woman with two sons (she's recently left her angry, volatile husband). All they can see is trouble.

Something terrible does happen. (To reveal its specifics would be unfair to the movie.) The mood of summer indolence is shattered, and the focus of the story, which seemed to be about the young lovers, shifts to the parents. "In the Bedroom," which was adapted and greatly expanded by Rob Festinger and Field from a short story by the late Andre Dubus, shows us how these two decent people are transformed by tragedy. Under the stress, the fissures in what seemed like a good marriage gape open. …