Thursday, April 1, 2010

Little Children. B+


'Little Children' is an earnest, thoughtful, and all together dour work from director Todd Field, who garnered acclaim for his 2001 drama 'In the Bedroom.' His latest cements itself in the viewer's head because of the great performances and because of its depiction of suburban life overtaken by a haunting, almost ghostly presence-a convicted sex offender who lurks in the shadows but isn't afraid to terrify the local moms at a public swimming pool. 'Little Children,' though flawed, definitely stays with you. The title actually refers to adults, who, here, are very naughty like some little children are. The only difference is that the innocence of wrongdoing that children possess and take advantage of isn't present with the grown-ups. Maybe we understand them, but we certainly don't forgive them. Kate Winslet leads the pack of sinners as a desperate mom who seeks more of a fantasy life than the one she has. She doesn't want to be like the other mothers, sitting on the park benches and gossiping while their children frolic about on the playground. She's similar to her character April Wheeler in Same Mendes' superior 'Revolutionary Road.' One day she meets a stay-at-home dad (Patrick Wilson) and, recognizing his gullibility, doesn't waste the opportunity to fulfill her wish. Jennifer Connelly plays the father's busy wife, who unfortunately doesn't get very much of the story's attention. But she seems like a pretty decent person and definitely a good wife. It's not entirely clear why the father goes for Winslet's character. I think he's suffering more from low self-esteem than true unhappiness. The movie opens informing us about this sex offender who's been released from jail. He's played by Jackie Earl Haley in one of the most depressing and doleful performances I've seen in while. He adds the sinister, ghost-like quality to the movie. We feel his presence always and wonder when he'll come out of hiding. 'Little Children' doesn't offer much of a resolution, but it does make it clear that these characters can't escape the duties that suburban life requires. You either stay away from it completely or sink into it and accept your responsibilities and know it's probably not worth fantasizing about big dreams anymore. This is a challenging, provocative, and at times harrowing journey into the problems everyone's forced to endure. The movie, instead of showing the strength of the human psyche, presents the weaknesses of it. And it does a fine job doing so.

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