Good Grief

Patient: In the Bedroom

Profile: Absolutely devastating meditation on dealing—or not—with the loss of a child . . . until the last 30 minutes, when it suddenly becomes a Charles Bronson movie. Think Ordinary People meets Death Wish meets Honey, I Avenged the Kids!Symptoms: I was having a very hard time watching this film, not because it wasn't good but because it attacked its subject so well: painstakingly walking us through the daily struggles of a couple whose son has been murdered. The effect is absolutely asphyxiating (not to get too Alan Alda about it, but I actually had to leave the theater for a minute or two because I couldn't breathe. The Doctor has issues—I'll say no more.) Then, just when there's a breakthrough between the parents who've been avoiding their grief, as well as each other, it suddenly becomes a caper movie in which we're not sure who told whom to do what or why, but at least justice has been served . . . or has it? Hey, I liked The Usual Suspects as much as the next guy, but must everything not be what it appears to be? Can't we take a clear-eyed look at something—no subplot, no noir—or have we become so hardened that observing the wreckage wrought by the death of a child isn't enough to hold our interest? Medea, your thoughts? Diagnosis: You were killing us softly until the last half-hour, when you really went noir where man . . . can't . . . breathe . . .
Tom Wilkinson and Sissy Spacek
Prescription: I had a bad feeling where this film was going when references were repeatedly made to the murder suspect. No, no, no, no, no. This movie is not about murder or justice. It is about grief. That's what makes the first three-quarters of your movie great, doing what great art should: placing us where we are unaccustomed, perhaps even uncomfortable, but totally involved. And then, in your last act, you herd us all into Everyothermovieville, USA, and suddenly I could breathe again. Look, if I want to see how screwed up the legal system is, I'll watch Greta Van Susteren's latest facial construction—or Sylvester Stallone's. You made me feel. It wasn't a good, happy feeling, but it was genuine and true. So why'd you puss out? Do you really think people who don't like meditations on grief are going to sit through two hours of WASP guilt to get a tepid—for them—payoff? Stay the course. Grief is a journey, so stay it—slowly. Give us a final half-hour of lives in progress; no resolution, no bang for our buck, just the ultimate antagonist: another day. Like Sly Stallone's face, it may not be pleasant to look at, but the horror of it all makes it impossible not to watch.
 
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