Life is good for the Fowler family. Matt (Wilkinson) is a successful doctor in smalltown Maine, Ruth (Spacek) a teacher, and their son Frank (Stahl) is set for university. Just one problem: Frank's frowned-upon relationship with older, single parent, Natalie (Tomei)...
If only all debuts were this good. Low-key, but emotionally devastating, former actor Todd Field's first movie is a superbly-crafted examination of family rifts, grief and the lengths to which one will go to appease a guilty conscience. It's also a scathing critique of the U.S. legal system.
Admittedly this isn't laugh-a-minute stuff, but the performances alone are worth it. Spacek has the more obvious Oscar bait, as an embittered and tearful mother; but it's Wilkinson who quietly steals the plaudits, as a father consumed by his inner demons.
Yet the real revelation here is Field. As the film moves from family drama to sombre vigilante thriller without missing a beat, he exhibits a faultless control of tone. Two other deft touches mark him out as a major talent: an early, almost imperceptible camera shudder, filled with suggestions of impending violence; and a gunshot that packs more power into one bang than a thousand mindless thrillers. Let's hope that Field's second film proves this isn't a fluke.
A draining, exhausting experience, but you'll be all the better for it. Wilkinson, Spacek, and Tomei are magnificent, but it's Field's sensitive, inventive direction that really catches the eye.