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Film review: In the Bedroom

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At times, "In the Bedroom" is filled with tension so thick you could cut it with a knife. Which is somewhat ironic when you consider that, for the most part, the film is a drama about personal relationships.

Also, there's an almost tangible threat of menace and violence that makes the film seem more thrilling than dramatic — which, again, is something of an irony because the majority of the movie's violence is either implied or overheard.

Such seeming incongruities abound in this film, though. Just when you think it's settling into a groove and heading down one path, it abruptly changes gears and heads off in a completely different direction.

That may be a little off-putting to some. And admittedly, the final transition between story elements isn't nearly as smooth as it should be. Still, some strong performances steer it through its roughest patches.

But the best of the bunch are given by Tom Wilkinson and Sissy Spacek, who star as Matt and Ruth Fowler, a middle-age New England couple living a fairly comfortable existence.

Unfortunately, their seemingly happy world turns upside-down when their college-age son, Frank (Nick Stahl), is murdered — by Richard Strout (William Mapother), the husband of Frank's older lover (Marisa Tomei).

Needless to say, the Fowlers are distraught over this turn of events. Worse, once their grieving is over, they both become distant — even blaming each other for the tragedy.

Where the plot (co-written by director Todd Field and Rob Festinger, from a story by late author Andre Dubus) is fairly interesting and unexpected, some of the jabs at the justice system are perhaps a bit misplaced. (It's also hard to say exactly what message we should draw from the film's rather nebulous ending.)

Again, the solid ensemble acting is the glue that holds "In the Bedroom" together. Though Spacek's character is grieving and then resentful, she has been singled out for praise — and rightfully so. But Wilkinson is exceptional as her (possibly) too-nice husband.

And despite being burdened with an obviously uncomfortable accent, Tomei makes the most of her limited screen time, as does up-and-comer Stahl (last seen playing the title role of "Bully").

"In the Bedroom" is rated R for occasional use of strong profanity, brief violence (gunfire), brief gore (fairly graphic and disturbing) and some crude sexual talk and use of vulgar slang. Running time: 130 minutes.

E-MAIL: jeff@desnews.com