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Movie Review: Rabbit Hole

By Philip Martin

This article was published January 28, 2011 at 3:43 a.m.


Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart) struggle to regain balance in their marriage after a tragedy in John Cameron Mitchell’s Rabbit Hole.

Philip Martin is blogging daily with reviews of movies, TV, music and more at Blood, Dirt & Angels.

— Rabbit Hole is an intense and powerfully understated movie about a marriage going through the worst kind of crisis. It is superbly acted by its principals - Nicole Kidman earned an Oscar nomination for her role as a bereaved mother but Aaron Eckhart and Dianne Wiest are no less impressive in their roles. If it is not quite in the top tier of Hollywood product, it is nevertheless the sort of serious, well made movie that builds reputations and careers.

My only real problem with the movie, based on - and fairly faithful to - the Pultizer Prize-winning play by David Lindsay-Abaire, is that it feels a lot like other tasteful sketches of American suburbanites going through hell. It feels like a nonperiod Revolutionary Road (and even more like that movie’s less respectable, hard luck - but not truly awful - sound alike Reservation Road). It feels a little like In the Bedroom. It feels a lot like Little Children.

This isn’t a criticism, just an observation. These are all movies about Americans of means, who live fairly privileged lives, but who aren’t invulnerable to heartbreak. People, it’s probably fair to say (considering you’re reading this in a newspaper or online), pretty much like most of us. And in movies like this there’s always an inherent cautionary subtext - there but for fortune head us, amigo.

And those of us with children could probably imagine ourselves on either side of the central, off-screen tragedy that provides the fulcrum for this movie. Yes, it would be terrible to lose a child. And yes, it might be nearly as terrible to have a child who has to live with the knowledge that his inattention (or, let’s face it, incompetence) caused another child’s death.

Laying it out like that doesn’t spoil this movie; we know pretty much from the beginning how things are going to go. Becca (Kidman) is married to Howie (Eckhart) and they’re grieving the loss of their 4-year-old son in a traffic accident.

They have their own ways of coping. Howie seems morbidly obsessed with the souvenirs of his son’s existence. Becca seems determined to put the boy out of mind and move on, although everything conspires to remind her of him. Becca flinches when she hears another mother scolding her child; she seizes up at the news that her younger sister (Tammy Blanchard) has become pregnant by her feckless musician boyfriend (Giancarlo Esposito).

Meanwhile the mournful Howie indulges himself by watching video of his son recorded on a smart phone. Becca wants to move on; he needs to wallow.

They attend a support group for grieving parents, and to Becca’s horror discover that some of the mourners have been worrying their stories for years. Incensed by the “God talk” that posits that her loss is part of some divine plan, Becca drops out, and Howie finds himself bonding with Gaby (Sandra Oh).

Then Becca notices - stalks and ultimately befriends - the teenager who was driving the car that killed her son.

Writing this, I think I like Rabbit Hole more than I’m letting on, but I think I might like it more in its original form, without the “actualness” of locations, without the insistent sunshine and open spaces. It might be that this material is simply better suited to the theater, with its enforced artificiality and its crackling, dragging blacks.

MovieStyle, Pages 31 on 01/28/2011

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