Little Children review by Mike Long

There's an adage in the motion picture business which states, "You're only as good as your last movie." Of course, this refers to one's financial prospects based on one's most recent film. But, this chestnut can be applied to movie fans as well, as we base our choices on what we thought of someone's last movie. Despite the critical praise which it received, I was unimpressed with Todd Field's 2001 film In the Bedroom, as I found it to be flawed. Thus, I wasn't very excited to see Field's newest movie, Little Children, especially since it too had been lauded by critics. However, I'm not one to deny a second chance, and I found that either the material in Little Children was more my taste, or Field has improved as a filmmaker.

Little Children is set in a sleepy Massachusetts town and follows the lives of several characters. Sarah (Kate Winslet) has a Master's Degree in literature, but has settled on being a suburban stay-at-home mom and spends most of her time with her daughter, Lucy (Sadie Goldstein). She have very little to do with her husband, Richard (Gregg Edelman). While at the park one day, Sarah meets Brad (Patrick Wilson), who is there with his son, Aaron (Ty Simpkins). Brad has been studying for the bar exam, and thus spends his days with Aaron, while his wife, Kathy (Jennifer Connelly), a documentary filmmaker, goes to work. Sarah and Brad strike up a casual friendship, but as the two begin to realize that they are attracted to each other, they begin to see one another every day under the guise of play-dates for their children.

Meanwhile, convicted sex offender Ronnie (Jackie Earle Haley) has been released from prison and is living with his mother (Phyllis Somerville). Local police officer Larry (Noah Emmerich) leads a community awareness crusade and posts pictures of Ronnie all over the neighborhood, and often harasses Ronnie. As the film opens, each of these characters is at rest, but as the story builds, so does the emotional turmoil that each is facing.

Little Children works on many levels and in several genres. First and foremost, it is a drama, as it explores the complex lives of these characters. This is a brutally honest look at the everyday lives of these people and everyone is flawed in some way. Whether it be there personal problems or their relationships, the movie doesn't shy away from showing the scars. But, the scenes with Sarah and Brad also feel like a romance at times. The movie never gets sappy or approaches a Lifetime movie feel, but the tender moments between them have a tone altogether different from the more depressing scenes in the film. And finally, the last reel of Little Children plays like a thriller, as several events culminate and a true sense of danger permeates the film.

Working from a novel by Tom Perrotta (who also co-wrote the screenplay), director Todd Field is able to juggle all of these characters, situations, and genres quite well. The first part of the film (actually, the entire movie) contains a great deal of narration, and although I haven't read the book, I imagine that these lines come directly from the novel. Voice-over can often be seen as a lazy filmmaking device, but here it is imperative as it allows us to know the character's motivations. From there, Field guides the film with a very steady, but not overly-controlling hand. We are there as observers and we watch these relationships unfold. The film is far from verite, but Field has shot the story in a natural and unobtrusive style -- he lets the story tell the story. Thus, as we get to know the characters and their lives, we become involved in their actions and emotions.

The film's true power comes to fruition in the third act. Again, we've watched these characters and storylines grow, and as the film draws to a close it becomes clear that there's going to be an intersection. This section of the film creates a palpable sense of tension and suspense. But, it's not through Field's filmmaking style. The movie doesn't contain the fast edits or fast-paced music which we'd find in other films. Instead, Field continues to use the same confident tone which he'd use in the rest of the film. He's relying on our experiences as filmgoers to fill in the rest. He knows that we've seen other movies, such as The Departed, where violence can erupt at any moment, and we get ourselves worked up. The result is an emotionally-draining experience...unless of course you've never seen another movie, then you may find it dull.

Filed also uses a casual touch in presenting the politics of the film. He simply shows us the evidence and allows us to make our own decisions. Is the fact that Brad and Sarah, two people who are bored in their marriages, are attracted to each other wrong? What about Ronnie? How would you feel if a sex offender lived in your neighborhood? Would it be OK to harass him? The movie poses these questions, but never points the viewer in any direction. Thus, this is a good movie to see with a group (assuming that they don't mind the sex scenes) and discuss afterwards.

Little Children is a very good movie, but it's not perfect. I wanted to know more about Sarah, and it was hard to relate to her at times, as no one forced her into her life of boredom. Despite the varying layers in the film, it is in desperate need of levity. The only funny moment in the movie, comes right after the most disturbing moment in the movie, and the audience is made to feel quite awkward for laughing. And the movie doesn't necessarily end abruptly, but most viewers would probably like to know what happened next.

Little Children comes over to play on DVD courtesy of New Line Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The transfer looks very good, as the picture is sharp and clear. This is no overt grain and no defects from the source material. The image has a very nice amount of depth and the colors look great. Field has shot the film in a very natural style, so the lighting is always well-balanced, and the image is never overly dark or bright. I noted no interfering video noise or artifacting. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Although this is a quite drama, we do get some nice moments of stereo effects and a crowded pool scenes offers some nice surround sound.

There are no extras on this DVD.

8 out of 10 Jackasses

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