Review by Jack Foley
IT WOULD be easy to write off Rabbit Hole as Oscar bait given its subject matter of a couple dealing with the grief surrounding the loss of their only child in a tragic accident.
But John Cameron Mitchell’s movie, starring and produced by Nicole Kidman, is one of the most subtle, intelligent and authentically moving pieces of cinema you’re like to see on the subject in a long, long time.
What’s more, it’s by no means as downbeat as the subject would suggest, injecting humour into proceedings that feels real, as well as a conclusion that is upbeat but never ‘Hollywood-esque’.
Credit for this goes to just about everyone concerned: from Mitchell’s under-stated direction, to David Lindsay-Abaire’s script (adapted from his own Broadway play), and including the terrific performances from both Kidman and Aaron Eckhart.
The leading duo play, respectively, Becca and Howie, who lost their son eight months ago, when he was accidentally run over by a teenage driver (Miles Teller).
As they struggle to cope with their grief, anger and confusion while maintaining their marriage, they slowly come to realise that their differing approaches are threatening to tear them apart.
Mitchell’s movie is notable for the way in which it doesn’t sugar-coat the issues concerning the aftermath of the tragedy, or layer on the sentimentalising. It can be touching and deeply moving but there are very few grand-standing moments that suggest this was made with awards in mind.
Rather, Becca and Howie both feel like flesh and blood creations – flawed, sometimes unlikeable but always worthy of our sympathy no matter how much we disagree with some of their decision making.
Kidman gets the majority of the film’s focus, but never at the expense of Eckhart, and both combine to create an environment that feels intimate and authentic. You believe in them as a couple, and you root for them to overcome their painful situation.
Admittedly, Kidman’s colder, more insular approach requires a certain amount of patience on a lot of viewers’ behalf but Lindsay-Abaire’s astute screenplay carefully enables viewers to see why she does and says the things she portrays. And Kidman proves masterful at being both detached, yet crying out for someone to hold onto.
Eckhart, meanwhile, exudes the poise of a man who desperately wants to support his wife no matter what she does, but who has to continually wrestle with his own feelings of regret, guilt, anger and confusion. The scene in which he accuses Becca of ‘erasing’ their son is particularly powerful.
And let’s not forget the contributions of Miles Teller or Dianne West either – the former doing sterling work as the similarly guilt-stricken driver of the car that killed their son (and who meets with Becca in secret) and the latter displaying expert patience and compassion as Becca’s mum.
Sandra Oh, meanwhile, offers welcome light relief as a fellow grief-stricken parent who Howie befriends at counselling sessions.
It’s through these moments, in particular, that Mitchell lightens the sombre tone and enables audiences to realise that even in life’s darkest chapters there is room for humour (even if of the gallows variety). It’s a master-stroke that cleverly manages to avoid feeling false or contrived.
Likewise, Mitchell’s conclusion, which allows for a great deal of optimism and – arguably – delivers the film’s greatest tear-jerking moment (a mixture of joy and sorrow for what is transpiring).
Rabbit Hole really is a tour-de-force from everyone concerned.
Running time: 91mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: June 20, 2011