In The Bedroom: America in denial and worse

David Ansen of Newsweek said of this film: “Once it gets its hooks in you, you can’t turn away.” But I’m concerned about what it is that gets its hooks into the viewer and why all of us in our post-Sept. 11 world may not be able to get away with our First Amendment rights, our Bill of Rights, and numerous other hard-won laws and principles that undergird a democratic society.

In effect, In The Bedroom promulgates the simplistic notion that a bad deed is committed by a bad seed. Period. As if we never learned that history, context, race, poverty, privilege, all sorts of extenuating factors, don’t more typically come into play where crime is concerned.

It also promotes the unfortunate idea that only vengeance can bring closure to families of crime victims.

Bedroom presents a crime where the suspect’s guilt is not proven but where the audience is nevertheless encouraged to approve of the ultimate punishment because of his probable guilt. In our capital punishment-prone nation – which is now embarking as well on shadowy military tribunal “justice” – here is a validation of the retributive or vengeance model in dealing with crime.

In the broadest philosophical sense, these models view crime as symptomatic of something seriously awry in an entire community. They seek to establish a humanistically appropriate condition of balance in the community by compensating individuals and effecting more equitable distributions of wealth and benefits.

While Bedroom was shot pre-Sept. 11, it might as well have been tailor-made to the response to that day of horror on the part of our political-corporate establishment.

For this story about what befalls a thoroughly decent family in its picturesquely, thoroughly decent, all-American (in this instance, good Yankee) town, is a tale about Good vs. Evil – with none of the messy complexities, including the devastating effects of greed and the abuses of power, that certainly characterize human interactions in our world.

Adding insult to injury is a particularly vulgar instance of the product placement that seems to infect every institution and activity in our global corporate paradise.

The rather reserved and even-tempered father, Matt (played by The Full Monty’s Tom Wilkinson), is a consummate caretaker and decent man, a physician and understanding father who is still romantic with his wife Ruth (Sissy Spacek).

Though feistier and more demanding, Ruth is a fine wife, mother and high school music teacher. They’re devoted to their only child, the sweet and talented Frank (Nick Stahl) who is slated to go to college to study architecture. Frank is involved with the older Natalie (Marisa Tomei), a sensitive hairdresser raising two young sons.

The fly in this less than idyllic ointment is Natalie’s sleazy soon-to-be ex-husband Richard (William Mapother), who belongs to a well-heeled local family. It’s “let’s get the lawyers time” as well as “let’s get the law itself” because, as this film blatantly suggests, they tend to let bad people get away with murder.

Never mind the highly civilized and civilizing principle that an accused person shall be deemed innocent until proven guilty – based on the conviction that it’s a far lesser violation of human rights that a guilty party should occasionally get off than that one innocent party should be wrongly convicted.

One of the upstanding men here who takes justice into his own hands has an American flag planted in his garage and his license plate reads “Veteran.”

I found Todd Field’s direction and dialogue to be generally wooden, one-dimensional and clinched. One aspect of the film, however, was darned good. It was sensitively revealing of why and how couples who have experienced a terrible mutual loss tend to turn against one another and often break up. Field also created the effect of a mystery thriller.

The casting was right on and the acting terrific. Wilkinson as Matt delivered a complex interpretation of what could easily have been a simplistic character. No wonder he and the always dependable Spacek won the 2001 Sundance Film Festival Special Jury Prize for Best Acting. Mapother was perfectly cast as Richard Strout.