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Movie Review: Little Children

Little Children
Directed by Todd Field
Written by Field and Tom Perrotta from his novel
New Line Cinema

It’s amazing that it took 5 years after Todd Field’s breakthrough film In the Bedroom for him to make another one. The movie earned 5 nominations, mostly for acting categories but also Best Picture. With that film and his latest, Field looks to be a go-to guy for normal people being led slowly into extraordinary situations, doing things that would appear to be against their nature, or at least what they represent to others. While that may sound like many, many movies, Field has a way of making it mean something; it’s impactful.

Little Children concerns the lives of Sarah Pierce (Kate Winslet) and Brad Adamson (Patrick Wilson of Hard Candy), two extremely different people in different kinds of unhappy marriages who find each other. Pierce is married to Richard (Gregg Edelman), a man who is obsessed with an internet photo whore and has let it interfere with work and home. They have a cute little daughter. Adamson is married to the gorgeous Kathy (Jennifer Connelly) who, by no fault of her own, is emasculating in the fact that she’s the only breadwinner; and their son, from his perspective, prefers mommy. Brad has tried and failed to pass the Bar twice and he is constantly distracted by fantasies of being a teenager again. The two principals, who meet early in the film and have sparks fly only to deny themselves their adulterous urges, both uncover ugly truths of their marriages that eventually lead them back together again and so the affair begins.

But not so fast–this movie isn’t just about adultery, it’s also about a man struggling with pedophilia. Ronald James McGorvey (Jackie Earle Haley, who stole much of what there was to be had of All the King’s Men) has left prison and entered the neighborhood, specifically his loving mother’s house, much to the derision of the families surrounding the area, many with small children. McGorvey has great difficulty in not being seen as a monster, especially to himself. Prominent in the public humiliation of McGorvey is Larry Hedges (Noah Emmerich), who has sins to atone for himself.

The two stories combine in a way to bring the movie to its conclusion–one that’s not a neat little bow but logical and satisfying. This movie, with all of its discomfort, is gratifying to watch. It has a solid story–many films like this are mere character studies; the story is not important or is disjointed, the threads are loose and the threads only come together as some sort of forced resolution. Plot details matter here and it is rewarding.

Also, movies with narration–I think narration is one of the most movie-nerd no-nos in the history of film study. Thousands of how-to script texts have preached the avoidance of this film “crutch.” Indeed, narration that tells actions that are easily seen or don’t allow the viewer to discover subtlety for themselves can rob a moviegoer of a rich experience–and Little Children does, in the first half, go overboard on narration–BUT I never once found it annoying. Perhaps it is the soothing voice of Will Lyman, in many times a funny straight-laced delivery.

Performances are good, although the character Kate Winslet plays is supposed to be sort of homely, a stark contrast to the drop-dead beauty of Jennifer Connelly (who is excellent in a limited role), and they try to dress her down–but Kate Winslet is about as beautiful as human beings get. Once again, though, perhaps Haley steals this whole movie from everyone–he’s unforgettable–his character reminded me of Kevin Bacon’s in The Woodsman. How do you make a child abuser a human being? Haley does, and he’s often heartbreaking.

This is just plain excellent. Don’t miss it when it comes to your neck of the woods.

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