© 2011 Ray Wong
Adapted from the Pulitzer-winning play by the playwright himself, Rabbit Hole is an overt metaphor: "The only way out is through." It examines a family's lingering grief while coping with the death of a child.
Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart) are an affluent couple living in Yonkers, NY. Becca tends to the beautiful home they share while Howie works a 9-5 corporate job. Everything seems normal, except it's not: their son, Danny, was killed eight months ago.
Becca and Howie try everything they can to cope with Danny's death and the guilt they carry. They go to group therapy, but it's not for Becca when the group turns to religion. Becca decides to seek her own "therapy" when she bumps into a teen, Jason (Miles Teller). She stalks him, and eventually they start to have regular meetings at the park to talk. It turns out Jason was the one who caused the accident that killed Danny.
Meanwhile, Howie is coping with his grief and the cracks in his marriage the best way he can. He finds confidence in a fellow grieving parent, Gaby (Sandra Oh). He smokes pot and hangs out with her behind Becca's back, just as Becca meets Jason behind Howie's back. The lies are only the symptoms of their failing marriage as its seams begin to unravel.
Nicole Kidman (Nine) was considered the frontrunner this award season before Annette Bening and Natalie Portman took over her spotlight, but that doesn't lessen her powerful performance in this personal drama. Her range is amazing, from grieve to self-confidence, and everything in between. Her scenes with Eckhart and Teller are particularly difficult but fascinating to watch. Given the right material, Kidman shines as one of the best actors of this generation.
Aaron Eckhart (Love Happens) is no slouch playing the other half of the grieving couple. He plays Howie, a man who internalizes his feelings by masking them with a more cocksure demeanor, through great, understated skills. The explosive scene in which he and Kidman rip at each other is incredibly intense. He and Kidman work excellent together, and they're believable as an estranged couple who happens to love each other very much.
The supporting cast is all extraordinary. Dianne Wiest (Rage) is a veteran and her unassuming, deeply felt performance as Becca's mother grounds the drama. The interplay between her and Kidman (both playing grieving parents) is exquisite. Miles Teller (The Track Meet) is impressive as the young man whose guilt is confronted by a grieving parent. He's a young actor to watch. Tammy Blanchard (The Good Shepherd) is both vulnerable and feisty as the sister who lives in Becca's shadow. And Sandra Oh (Blindness) is sublime as a grieving parent who has her own battles to fight.
Writer David Lindsay-Abaire (Inkheart) adapted his own play with finesse and subtlety. He skillfully weaves the backstories and mystery with the ongoing drama. While the parents struggle with their griefs and try to keep their marriage together, everyone else is tiptoeing around them. There isn't that much of a plot, most of it dealing with the grieving process and revealing the backstories. What is tremendous about this work is the subtext: If you want to understand subtext, this is the movie to study. The straightforward story is rich in symbolism, themes and subtexts. Characters often don't say what they really want to say, but we get it anyway.
Lindsay-Abaire also has a knack for subtlety, and a unique way of revealing information without exposition. The plot and backstories unfold naturally and organically. In one scene, Becca goes into Manhattan to visit some of her old colleagues. Nothing much is being said, but the wealth of information and emotions are presented through the subtexts: Becca quit her job to raise Danny, and now she wants her job back to get on with her life, but everything's changed. It's a very simple scene, but the underlying information and emotions are anything but simple. That's only one example of the writer's superb ability.
Director John Cameron Mitchell (Shortbus) surprises with his subtlety (the director isn't known for that) and quietness. It's hard to believe this is only his third film. The story unfolds at a slow and deliberate pace. At times, it may seem a bit too slow, but over all, everything fits well together to support the themes and mood. Mitchell loves his actors, and often his camera focuses on them and never lets go. He allows his actors to tell the story, and his trust pays off. The production is gorgeous and appropriately restrained.
Rabbit Hole is not an easy film to watch. It lacks the usual fast-paced plot, but it's not without twists, most of which revolve around the backstories of "what happened." The characters are well developed, and their relationships feel real. It's a quiet, subtle, but emotionally powerful piece. Kudos to the filmmakers for taking us through this cinematic rabbit hole.
Stars: Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, Dianne Wiest, Miles Teller, Tammy Blanchard, Sandra Oh, Giancarlo Esposito, Jon Tenney
Director: John Cameron Mitchell
Writer: David Lindsay-Abaire (based on his play)
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic material, drug use and language
Running Time: 91 minutes
Script – 8
Performance – 8
Direction – 8
Cinematography – 8
Editing – 8
Production – 8
Total – 7.9 out of 10