The problem with Todd Field's feature debut is that you shouldn't read too much about it before you see it. Early on in his understated adaptation of Andre Dubus' short story, Killings, something awful happens. Lives change, and so does the film.
All you need to know is that in a small, lobster-fishing town in Maine, Frank Fowler (Mick Stahl) is a college boy who's romancing Natalie (Marisa Tomei), an older woman and mother split from her brutish husband, Richard (William Mapother). Frank wants to stay in Maine and enjoy his relationship, but his liberal, likeable parents, Matt (Tom Wilkinson) and Ruth (Sissy Spacek), want him to go off and pursue a career in architecture - - even if dad seems proud that he's bagged Natalie. What comes next, shockingly, is a keen anatomisation of grief, loss, and their emotional fallout. The clue is in the title, a phrase that refers to what two or more lobsters do when trapped ina pot together: tear each other apart.
Far from bringing people together for a weepy love-in, Field portrays grief as an internalised emotion that, in a claustrophobic environment, boils up and divides people. Thankfully, pat resolutions are in short supply here. That it works is down to the superb cast and Field's lean direction. He gives Wilkinson, Stahl, Tomei and - in a particularly acute performance - Spacek ample room to shade in their roles. Indeed, they make the first act seem so effortlessly involving that, when one character goes, the loss is sharply registered. It's got the smarting slap of raw truth about it, one that the third act's problematic diversion into thriller territory can't spoil. Even that shift of gear is, arguably, rooted in complex relationship dynamics and the ending has a ring of ambivalent honesty. A feature debut to be reckoned with.
An intimate melodrama of rare conviction, Field's film holds up a dark, truthful mirror to what grief can do to people. It's wrenching stuff, superbly played.
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