Starring: Kate Winslet, Jennifer Connelly, Patrick Wilson
Studio: New Line Home Entertainment
Video: 2.35:1 Widescreen Enhanced for 16:9
Audio: DD 5.1, DD 2.0
Extras: Color Bars, Previews (The New World, A Prairie Home Companion, A History of Violence)
Length: 137 minutes
I was warned about this film from an acquaintance, so was expecting to see some disturbing material. From the beginning the viewer is introduced to one of the main characters, Ronnie, a sex offender who has just been released from jail. Although there are more than a few plot lines going at the same time, the film manages to weave the characters together. If you look at it from Ronnie’s end, there is Larry, an ex-cop who killed a child at the mall (who was waving a toy gun around) and his life has faltered ever since. He became obsessed with Ronnie and began an organization—a campaign to submit posters and run Ronnie from the neighborhood. He’s lost everything that mattered to him (job, family, etc) and his efforts have long since moved to harassment. Though his friends (cops) whom he plays football don’t interfere, they aren’t really involved either.
Larry comes upon Brad who is known as the “prom king” at the playground by the chatty mothers due to his good looks. They keep their distance and don’t even know his name. He’s flunked the bar exam twice and is the primary caregiver. He loves his son, but it is lonely being isolated and alienated from the rest of the adult world. In fact, many of the characters seem lonely and unable to connect to those around them. In an effort to bond, Larry asks Brad on the team and tries to enlist him in the cause against Ronnie. Brad joins the team and uses it as an excuse not to study for the bar exam, but looks upon Larry’s activities regarding Ronnie with some distaste. Brad’s primary diversion is Sarah, a writer.
Sarah refuses to put her daughter in child care and because her husband, Richard, has a high position “branding” products at work (also the big house his family left him doesn’t hurt), she gets by fine. She’s a dutiful wife, though her husband pays her little mind. Richard finds interest on an Internet porn site called Slutty Kay. Interest is far too tame a word for it—obsession is a better one. Sarah discovers him with panties wrapped around his face masturbating while looking at his monitor. This is enough reason for her to start her own obsession and become enamored with Brad. At first they begin their relationship lounging at the local pool, but when the rain comes and she invites him in to dry off, he does quite a bit more. A steamy affair starts and their passion for each other grows to a boiling point.
The last main character is Kathy, Brad’s wife (played by Jennifer Connelly). She’s a control freak, a miser, and doesn’t give Brad the sexual satisfaction that he needs despite the fact that she is a “10.” She’s cold and can’t really understand what is going on around her, because she too, is trying to maintain a fantasy–just like every character in the film. Larrry has a cause and believes he is trying to save the neighborhood. Ronnie thinks he can ignore his desires and the constraints put upon him by society (especially considering his status as a sex offender), but is really living the life of a child—his mother dotes on him and his sexuality is undeveloped. On a date with a girl he takes control by masturbating in front of her and threatened her about telling anyone. Sarah lives out her fantasy for a prince charming that will take her away from it all. Is she working towards independence or dependence? At a book reading she expresses her opinion on the character of Madame Bovary: a feminist struggling against her unhappiness. She sees herself as this woman.
Technically the film is very good. There is voice-over narration that helps shed light on the characters’ background and even their thoughts. It wasn’t an unwelcome break from some of the heaviness of the film. Throughout the film I kept asking questions. Questions like: Where is the story going? What is really happening? What’s important and what’s not? And, do I like this movie? The film felt longer than it was partly because it was hard to sympathize with the characters and all their flaws are highlighted throughout. The film is successful in the way it stereotypes them, but does not go too far to the point where they would be unbelievable.
The end is rather dramatic, but I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t seen the movie. The characters are either lonely, obsessed, alienated from other adults, persecuted, or just suffering. None of them are innocent, and most are not even likable. At the end though, they all seem to get some relief from their failings. Most of the performances are inspired and it was a joy to see and recognize Ronnie as “Kelly” from The Bad News Bears. The film isn’t an easy recommendation, but will be sure to stir interesting conversation between friends.
– Brian Bloom