Five years after his acclaimed drama In the Bedroom, director Todd Field returns with a movie that replays in your thoughts and heart long after it’s over. Based on the novel by Tom Perrotta, Little Children is an absorbing piece of filmmaking, one that calmly digs into the intricacies of its main characters while simultaneously provoking a feeling of uneasiness.
At first, we are introduced to Sarah Pierce (Kate Winslet), a lugubrious suburban housewife who devotes her entire life to the demands of her young daughter. One afternoon at a nearby playground, she meets Brad Adamson (Patrick Wilson), a stay-at-home father who takes care of his son during the day and studies for the bar exam at night. Striving for change and sharing an urge for contentment, Brad and Sarah soon engage in a lustful affair that will completely twist the lives of their families. At the same time, the peace of the neighborhood is disrupted by Ronnie McGorvey (Jackie Earle Haley), a middle-aged pedophile who has just completed a two-year sentence for exposing himself to minors.
Although Little Children bears noticeable similarities to Todd’s previous family drama In the Bedroom, it is also remarkably different. Similar in the intense way he approaches the development of his characters, but different in the way he tells his story and exploits the thematic of Perrotta’s acclaimed novel. With Sarah and Brad’s affair at the center of the plot, the movie focuses on the many consequences that people have to bear when longing for an alternative to their life. Additionally, Little Children comments on the immense urge of parents to seek protection of their loved ones, and offers a gloomy and at times satirical look at modern suburban living.
The great thing about Little Children is that the story remains open to many interpretations. Although Field reveals enough about his characters and generally avoids enigmas, he refrains from offering too much detail. Some scenes even include a narration that digs deeper into the souls of the main characters, but there’s always enough space left for the viewers to actively think. Movies that spur our intellect and urge us to analyze what we see on the screen are a rarity, and Little Children implants itself in the back of your mind with no intention to leave. The experience is perplexing and at once genuinely engrossing.
One of the greatest strengths of the movie is the cast, notably Kate Winslet in what is one of her finest roles yet. She delivers an incredibly authentic performance and does a great job at capturing emotions, which is why she earned a well-deserved Oscar nomination for best actress. Patrick Wilson, last seen in Brian Nelson’s controversial masterpiece Hard Candy, hits all the right notes in playing a husband oppressed by his over-motivated wife (Jennifer Connelly). Top acting honors however, go to Jackie Earle Haley, whose fantastic acting as Ronnie the pedophile almost makes you forget that he’s just an artist playing a fictional character.
If you do the math right, the result is obvious. Flawless writing, flawless acting, a sophisticated photography and artful direction equal fantastic cinema. Although it may not be for everybody’s taste, Todd Field’s superbly crafted film will leave an impressive mark on everyone willing to sit through 137 minutes of unconventional storytelling and splendid character development.
A movie this unique, you may think, merits a DVD release loaded with extra material. Unfortunately, such is not the case, and Little Children on DVD ends up being more disappointing than compelling. In this case, special features are not scarce, but they are conspicuously absent.
Maybe Todd Field doesn’t like to talk about his movies, or maybe he doesn’t find it necessary to include a filmmaker commentary on his DVDs. His last film, In the Bedroom, didn’t have one and Little Children doesn’t either. But since his films are open to interpretation and invite viewers to think about characters and plot, I can understand why a commentary could spoil the mystery.
In return, the disc could feature a selection of interviews with Kate Winslet, Patrick Wilson and Jackie Earle Haley, or a short look behind-the-scenes with an emphasis on locations and how they play into the central mood of the film. But none of these [possibilities are explored, which reduces the content of the disc to the brilliant movie and the brilliant movie alone.
Ultimately, the quality of picture and sound of the feature film is top notch, which makes watching Little Children at home an intense experience. Movie buffs or DVD fanatics may find it hard to digest the absence of a special features section, but then again, the beauty of the film itself is reason enough to get all cranked up about the release.