Thursday, December 30, 2010

Film Review: Rabbit Hole

"Rabbit Hole" *** (out of ****)

So much has been made of the fact that Nicole Kidman hasn't starred in a box-office success since 2001 when she appeared in "Moulin Rouge!" and "The Others". Since that time she has done some interesting work but the films have not had a mainstream appeal, including "Dogville" (2004), "Margot at the Wedding" (2007) and the critical acclaimed "The Hours" (2002). A few films were expected to be hits like "Austrilla" (2008) and "Nine" (2009) but they managed to be disappointments both critically and commercially.

Unfortunately I doubt "Rabbit Hole" (2010) is going to change her box-office appeal. But whether or not the film does well at the box-office is quite frankly besides the point. The real question which should be asked is whether or not the film is any good. The answer to that question is yes. And Nicole Kidman demonstrates why she is one of the best actresses we have working today.

"Rabbit Hole" is to put simply about two damaged souls and the grieving process. Becca (Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart) are a married couple whose 4 year old son died in an accident 8 months ago. The boy was chasing after his pet dog when a car rode down the street, swirled out of the way to avoid the dog and killed their son instead.

What exactly is the "correct" way to deal with such a traumatic event? Can one ever recover from such an ordeal? Is there even a "correct" way to deal with that type of grief? Becca and Howie try going to group therapy where they meet other couples who have also lost a child. For Becca it is not working. One couple in particular annoys her because they have turned to God in their hour of need. In Becca's mind God was the problem. Why did He take their son away. Becca takes their son's old clothes and give it to Goodwill. She removes old drawings off the refrigerator. Gives the pet dog to her mother. She is trying to remove all the things which remind her of her son.

Howie on the other hand is a different story. We find out every night Howie watches video clips of their time together with their son on his cell phone. Howie is upset that Becca has removed everything. In his mind she is trying to act like their son never existed. Howie continues to go to the group therapy.

Here we have two different approaches to deal with the same problem. In my mind, Becca's choices are correct. She is trying to move on. Having objects around which reminds her of her son only makes the process more difficult. If you are unable to get over the past you can never move forward. That is Howie's problem. He needs more time. Of course each person has to deal with their problems in their own way and at their own pace.

The movie actually has the same problem I wrote about as "The Fighter" (2010). It is monotone. There is no fluctuation in tone. The emotions in the film are somber. We don't get the big emotional payoff we are expecting. The emotional breakdown scene isn't as powerful as it could have been.

Still there are moments of very good acting by Kidman and Eckhart. We believe they are a married couple. We can relate to their situation and their grieving process feels sincere. There are a few choice moments when the two do engage in highly charged arguments concerning what steps to take in order to move forward.

Yet there are times when I felt the movie could have done more. The film doesn't examine these two people in the same intense way Ingmar Bergman studied his characters in "Scenes From A Marriage" (1974). Of course the issues each couple faces is different but Bergman kept his characters under a microscope. "Rabbit Hole", in the third act, feels a little too contrived. It reaches it conclusions a little too easily. This goes back to my comments about not getting a strong enough emotional payoff.

But why nit-pick? We should enjoy watching these two performances here by Eckhart and Kidman. Not to mention some fine supporting players like Dianne Wiest as Nat, Becca's mother. And Tammy Blanchard as Izzy, Becca's sister. Miles Teller as Jason and Giancarlo Esposito as Auggie, Izzy's boyfriend.

The film was directed by John Cameron Mitchell. This is only his third film. His two previous films include "Shortbus" (2006) and "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" (2001). I haven't seen either of these two movies but Mitchell strikes me as a competent filmmaker. I didn't quite sense a personal style coming from him however.

The script was written by David Lindsay-Abaire, who adapted his own stage play. The story goes Abaire based the play on his own experiences. He had a brother who died at a young age and according to him it is an incident which his family is continuously dealing with.

So far the film has received some critical attention. Nicole Kidman is nominated for a Golden Globe in the "Best Actress" drama category and she received an Independent Spirit Award nomination. The film is also up in three other categories including "Best Director". And I personally hope Kidman wins an Oscar nomination. Even though it seems to be Natalie Portman's year.

"Rabbit Hole" is a strong film with effective performances. Audiences, as of now, don't seem to be paying attention to it, hopefully that will change.

p.s. - what exactly does the title "Rabbit Hole" mean? When I think of a "rabbit hole" I think of "Alice in Wonderland" and the rabbit hole which took Alice to a world where nothing made sense. Becca's rabbit hole leads her to the real world where once again, nothing makes sense.