Monday, May 28, 2007

Movie Review: "Little Children"

Starring Kate Winslet, Jennifer Connelly, Patrick Wilson, Gregg Edelman, Noah Emmerich, Jackie Earle Haley, Phyllis Somerville
Directed by Todd Field

Official Web site

Deservedly snagging her fifth Oscar nomination in what has become a very impressive young career, Kate Winslet’s performance in “Little Children” practically defines restless yearning. As Sarah Pierce, a housewife stuck in an apparently loveless marriage who also is far from the most confident or competent mother around, Winslet crafts an indelible performance.

Director Todd Field, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Tom Perrotta, based on Perrotta’s novel, captures the complexities of suburban American life in a seemingly almost effortless manner. In much the same way that “American Beauty,” a similarly themed tale of suburban dissatisfaction did, Field ‘s drama manages to throw in a dose of satire into the proceedings of a neighborhood that only on the surface looks like a good place to live.

As the film opens, the neighborhood is dealing with the return of Ronnie McCorvey (Jackie Earle Haley, in a memorable and fearless performance), a convicted sex offender recently released from prison. He moves back in with his mother (Phyllis Somerville), a loving and protective woman who has to deal with concerned residents, who are only further agitated by the anti-Ronnie actions of an overzealous ex-cop (Noah Emmerich).

Ronnie’s first appearance in the movie doesn’t come in for quite a while, but when he makes an unwanted appearance at the public pool, the result is akin to a shark dropping in for a visit. Among the visitors at the pool that same day are Sarah and Brad (Patrick Wilson), who is himself a bit of an aimless father, having failed the Bar exam twice while married to a successful documentary filmmaker (Jennifer Connelly, giving a good performance in an underwritten role). He and Sarah strike up a friendship that almost seems to inevitably lead to a romantic connection, as both ponder their increasing marital difficulties.

Sarah certainly seems to have good reason to believe her marriage is on the rocks, as her husband Richard (Gregg Edelman) seems more interested in visiting sexually explicit Web sites than spending time with his family. She begins spending more and more time with Brad, as both begin taking greater risks in the relationship, including a getaway weekend that demonstrates their passion for each other, yet also shows an irresponsibility to their families.

Field and Perrolta’s screenplay is fairly astute in drawing interesting characters, yet doesn’t make judgments against them. One perfect example is with Ronnie, who, as an ex-con, isn’t drawn as a villain, as that would be too easy. Instead, moments of humanity are included in the role, making the viewer both disturbed and saddened by some of the situations he finds himself in. A sequence that follows a date Ronnie has with another troubled woman (Jane Adams) is particularly emotionally complex.

With so many characters packed into the script, the film seems to have some difficulty coming to a satisfactory stopping point for some of the storylines. If anything, the movie’s probably stretched in too many directions. Still, with such a good cast at his disposal, it’s hard to fault Field for wanting to give his actors some time to shine.

“Little Children” seems less interested in giving its characters a successful conclusion to their stories, than in just shaking up their existence. The fact that Sarah and Brad have their worlds shaken a bit might mean their kids won’t be the only ones to mature as the years go by.

Grade: A-
(Rated R for strong sexuality and nudity, language and some disturbing content.)

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