Judge Clark Douglas was once a mother, but has never been a child. Wait, hold on...
A story of the unbreakable bond between mother and child.
"Blood is important, but time spent together is what matters. Right?"
Facts of the Case
Our story follows the lives of three different women, all of whom have been affected by adoption in some way.
Karen (Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right) is an embittered nurse who gave up her only child for adoption a long time ago. Of course, Karen was 14 at the time and didn't have much of a choice, but the decision has haunted her nonetheless. Now she's struggling to make a connection with her aging mother and to engage in a relationship with a kind-hearted co-worker (Jimmy Smits, Dexter).
Lucy (Kerry Washington, Lakeview Terrace) and her husband Joseph (David Ramsey, Pay it Forward) have been trying to have a child for years to no avail. Now that they've finally decided to adopt, Lucy must persuade a young pregnant woman (Shareeka Epps, The Winning Season) that she's qualified to raise the baby once it's born.
Elizabeth (Naomi Watts, Eastern Promises) was given up for adoption as a baby. She grew up to be a confident yet guarded woman, devoting all of her time to furthering her career as a lawyer and refusing to engage in any sort of meaningful human relationship. When she joins a new law firm and begins conducting an affair with her boss (Samuel L. Jackson, Snakes on a Plane), is there any hope that the relationship could turn into something more substantial?
Yes, Mother and Child is another somber, suspiciously coincidence-loaded interconnected drama in the vein of Crash and Babel (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, the director the latter, serves as executive producer of this film), but don't let that scare you away. The individual pieces are so consistently compelling that one is likely to forgive any narrative gimmickry, particularly considering that the structure is a good deal less Rube Goldberg-esque this time around. This is a gentle, moving story that thoughtfully examines some of the painful complexities of human relationships.
The cast that director Rodrigo Garcia has assembled for the film is impressive, but I feel obliged to report that nearly everyone involved is even better than usual this time around. Garcia's career has been dominated by character-driven dramas (both his films and his work on assorted HBO television shows), and he has demonstrated a real knack for drawing great work from his performers even when the plot is somewhat less than remarkable (Passengers, for instance). The screenplay for Mother and Child is a good one, but what the actors bring to the table elevates the film immensely.
Let's start with the scenes between Annette Bening and Jimmy Smits. Bening is unafraid of tackling difficult, potentially unappealing characters and this role is no exception. During the first act in particular, Karen comes across as a resentful individual for whom spite and bitterness have become natural reflexes in everyday conversation. Bening plays the venom very well, but she also has to find a way to subtly convey the heartache beneath the ill-mannered surface. She does this superbly, and Smits essays a man who seems just old enough and sensitive enough to see behind the mask. He demonstrates excellent comic timing in the scenes in which he unsuccessfully tries to warm up to her, and there's a terrifically entertaining moment in which he stops himself from calling her a particularly nasty name and instead clumsily blurts out, "weirdo!"
Kerry Washington's character initially seems relatively easy to play. She's warm and approachable, looking forward to being a mother, more or less happily married. But observe the scene in which Lucy is grilled by Epps, and the way she continues to nervously dispense honest answers no matter how uncomfortable the questions get. Then note the way she changes the way she speaks about certain things when her husband isn't in the room. The character's nuances slowly reveal themselves as the film proceeds, and Washington aces some truly challenging moments in the third act.
Naomi Watts is another actress for whom warmth comes rather easily, but she taps into a darker side with this performance. Again, the character's introduction seems relatively simple: she's a confident career woman who doesn't like serious relationships. It's a pretty straightforward role, until we get to the bedroom scene Watts shares with Jackson. In that sequence, we witness just how profoundly scarred Elizabeth is—it's a moment as revelatory as Watts' audition scene in Mulholland Drive. In addition, Jackson once again reminds us of what a fine actor he can be when a role actually requires him to be something other than merely "Samuel L. Jackson," as he hits some atypically subdued notes as a reserved, bowtie-sporting businessman who's simultaneously fascinated and concerned by the adventurous Lucy.
Garcia ties these tales together in elegantly touching fashion; you can see the connections coming a mile away but they're not presented with needless dramatic flair. His observant, unobtrusive direction is precisely what the story calls for.
The DVD transfer is excellent, offering very strong detail and equally strong depth. The film doesn't have any moments of eye-popping visuals (it's fairly routine in terms of cinematography and set design), but it looks as good as one could hope a 480p transfer to deliver. The audio is also quite sturdy, with the underappreciated Edward Shearmur turning in an effectively sensitive score. Supplements include three featurettes: "Creating the Family Tree," "Universally Connected" and "Cast and Crew Discuss the Universal Themes in the Film." The only other item is a handful of deleted scenes.
Mother and Child sort of slipped in and out of theatres without much fanfare, but it's a good film boasting remarkable performances across the board. Give it a look.
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