In the Bedroom ★★★★½

A story as unstructured and unpredictable as life itself, starting with a teenager whose affair with an older woman (who has two children) is met with mild consternation by his parents and much worse by the girlfriend's former husband; it's best not to lay out much beyond that, but the actual events that occur under this film's watch aren't really the point anyway. What we're treated with is, along the lines of Tender Mercies, a powerhouse showcase for actors (Tom Wilkinson and Sissy Spacek, both so inspired it makes many far more amply rewarded screen marriages look extremely goofy) not because it affords them any opportunity to chew scenery or to assert themselves loudly but because the script's constantly flowing stream of real, yet unfathomably tragic, life is so rich, well-judged, built to be imparted beautifully by their subtle understatement. (The supporting cast is uniformly brilliant as well, especially Marisa Tomei as an all too believably long-suffering woman encountering abuse and injury at every turn.) In Mercies the one grand, plot-heavy moment in the third act felt misplaced in a film that was so much about outward peace and internal conflict; here, even the most decisive gestures feel earned, largely because Todd Field's script does not offer the respite of readymade interpretation. Because he allows every moment to breathe, and because his characters are so well-rounded and believable (even the violent abuser, cartoonishly terrible hair aside), we're left considering the weight of each scene just as much as the actors are, and we're denied any sort of catharsis or resolution, even as there is the heavy hint of a cruelly earned future peace.

There's one very minor lapse in Field's decision-making here, when he ties a block of wood nailed to a tree to a brief flashback offering an unnecessarily explanation for what it is; what it is does not matter, only Wilkinson's reaction to it (this is intriguing because Field pointedly avoids the same error earlier in the film, with a small piece of broken glass). Given that this film's quietness and realism are what are still haunting me a full day later -- even the dumb conversations in the film feel like actual dumb conversations; I don't know that I've ever felt such things were captured so eerily well, the only possibility that comes to mind being the last few scenes of Greenberg and some of The Last Detail -- it's perhaps strange that the scene I think is most remarkable of all is the only one in which the two leads lose their composure. I was worried when they were arguing, frankly; it all seemed too laid-out, too rehearsed, too specific... but then the girl selling candy bars showed up at the door and as soon as he re-entered the room and began apologizing to his wife, I lost it, because the degree to which they both understood how wrong they'd been to lash out at one another, and the degree to which their love is obviously undeterred, and the degree to which the blowup they've just experienced has somehow strengthened them... it has such a pulse, such a genuine sense of the ebbing and flowing of human emotion, I tear up again just thinking of it.

That this lost the Oscar to A Beautiful Mind is not just infuriating but insulting, but frankly it would have been if it lost to any of the other three nominees too.