Lionsgate // 2010 // 92 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker // April 11th, 2011
"Things aren't nice anymore."
"Dogs chase squirrels. Boys chase dogs."
It's been eight months since their 4-year-old son died, and Becca (Nicole Kidman, The Hours) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart, The Dark Knight) are, in their own ways, coping. For Howie, this means accepting grief as a part of his life and trying to get "back to normal" as much as is possible.
For Becca, it's not that straightforward.
Based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning play by David Lindsay-Abaire, Rabbit Hole is an admirable film. It's a straightforward, occasionally incisive look at an unimaginable, yet not uncommon, tragedy, the death of a young child. It doesn't resort to a gimmick, like In the Bedroom, which coolly shifted gears from grief to vengeance without missing a beat, and it doesn't burlesque agony like (the superior) A Day in the Death of Joe Egg. It's impeccably cast, with Kidman and Eckhart giving fine performances. John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angry Inch) directs with sensitivity that doesn't lapse into the realm of maudlin, and the script hits all the right notes.
So why isn't this a more compelling film? Why doesn't Rabbit Hole resonate the way The Son's Room or Joe Egg (which dealt with a sick child, not a dead one) did?
Maybe it's because the whole thing is just a little too well-modulated, a little too neat. Grieving isn't neat. It's sloppy and extravagant and indulgent, and it's uncomfortable to be around. While it's undeniably -- and given its subject matter, unavoidably -- moving, Rabbit Hole's ice-perfect construction and emotional efficiency keep it from being the wrenching experience it might have been.
Both Kidman and Eckhart do well in their roles, particularly Kidman, whose inexpressive face serves her well as a woman whose life seems to have been blanked out by tragedy. But beyond their loss, there doesn't seem to be much to Becca and Howie. Perhaps they're supposed to be an "everycouple" dealing with an extraordinary situation, but they're really not. They're well-off -- she once worked for Sotheby's, he's got some non-descript but well-paying office job -- and they're very attractive. Grief hasn't disfigured them; if anything, they look a little too good, like they spent part of their mourning time at a spa. In some ways, they're like a younger version of the parents in Robert Redford's Ordinary People, but Kidman's contained and confused grief lacks fragile detachment of Mary Tyler Moore's tightly guarded WASP, and Eckhart's loss never seems as palpable as what Donald Sutherland's character carried.
More interesting than Becca and Howie are the people in their orbit, including Becca's mother (Dianne Wiest, in what 20 or so years ago might have been the Estelle Parsons role) who, while occasionally overwritten as a ditz, is herself no stranger to loss -- her son died of a heroin overdose at 30, and Becca angrily resents her mother's comparisons between their losses. Sandra Oh (Sideways) is very good as a woman they meet in a support group who's turned her loss into a lifestyle.
Lionsgate gives the film a good technical presentation, with a fine looking high-def transfer and a solid DTS-HD 7.1 audio track. Extras are spare: a commentary with Mitchell, Lindsay-Abaire, and DP Frank DeMarco and some deleted scenes.
Am I being too hard on Rabbit Hole? Maybe. It's in no way a bad film, or a lazy one. Kidman and Eckhart do very well by the material, which often belies its stage origins with speeches and bits of dialogue that sometimes come off as a bit unnatural for a film.
Some scenes are extremely affecting, and the film contains small moments that really hit home, including a scene in which Becca and Howie are driving, and nearly get into an accident. When Howie slams on the breaks, Becca's first instinct is to check the back seat, where the child's car seat is. It's a beautifully understated moment that says so very much about loss.
At times, Mitchell employs a handheld camera to create tension, and this pays off nicely in a scene in which the characters let loose at each other, expressing their guilt and anger, and trying to make sense of this thing they will carry around forever that will never make sense.
What also works well is Becca's relationship with Jason, the teen who was driving the car that hit their son. She seeks him out, perhaps, to find answers, to get some sort of closure. Jason (Miles Teller) is an interesting character simply because he's so ordinary. Unlike Howie and Becca, he's moved on, but he's not insensitive or unfeeling. Becca deals with him maternally, and encourages him -- Jason is writing a comic book called "Rabbit Hole," that (metaphorically) deals with a child searching for his father in parallel universes. In these scenes, Kidman truly shines, slowly letting Becca's barriers down, giving us a sense of the woman she once was and, sadly, probably won't be again.
Sad, moving, well-made, but ultimately not as satisfying as it should be, Rabbit Hole is worth seeing for its strong performances and affecting mood.
Review content copyright © 2011 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 7.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Deleted Scenes
* Official Site
* Cinema Verdict Review