Monday, February 21, 2011

New Release Review: Rabbit Hole (John Cameron Mitchell, 2010)

Directed by John Cameron Mitchell (writer and star of Hedwig and the Angry Inch), and adapted by David Lindsay-Abaire from his own 2005 Pulitzer winning play, Rabbit Hole is an American drama centered around a formerly happily married couple (Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart) whose life is turned upside down by the untimely death of their 4-year-old son, Danny.

The film begins about 8 months after his death, and both Becca (Kidman) and Howie (Eckhart) are struggling to heal from their trauma together, and find themselves coping with their grief in different ways. Howie finds a solemn pleasure in interacting with videos of Danny he has kept, and sneaking the occasional peek into Danny's still furnished and toy-adorned room in the hope that he will find his son poking his head out from under his bed. Becca is slowly, one day at a time, removing parts of her son from the house. The pain of looking at his drawings on the fridge and his fingerprints on the door frame is just too much to cope with. Danny had chased their dog out onto the street and had been hit by a car. While the circumstances are tragic and no one (not even the driver) is to blame, none can help but blame themselves. Had Becca not answered the phone just before the incident, had Howie not bought the dog in the first place, and had the driver been a few kilometers under the speed limit, all could have been avoided.

Becca and Howie have been attending nightly meetings for parents of deceased children, but Becca has found it to become increasingly frustrating, and decided to discontinue going. Howie continues to attend, but finds a means of escape through Gabby (Sandra Oh), one of the women from the support group. Becca starts meeting the young teenager driver who hit her son. They converse and share his artistic talents and ultimately find understanding and comfort from one another. Their private decisions may bring individual comfort but it puts strain on their marriage when they are uncovered. Both put on brave faces in front of one another, and their families, but it is evident that not all the wounds have healed. Howie begins to stray from his faith to Becca and has a number of aggressive blowups at his wife, while Becca even slaps a woman in the supermarket when she overreacts to some disagreeable parenting.

Many will think that this seems way too heavy and depressing to be enjoyable, and I thought the same thing after seeing the trailer. But I was very surprised how much I liked it. I found the story tragic, but it is kept engaging by the strength of the performances, and it is ultimately uplifting. Kidman, who has received much acclaim for what is surely one of her greatest performances, is sensational. I really liked her, and I normally do not. Not only does she have to personally overcome her guilt and suppress her grief, she has to try and prove that she is coping. The contradictory emotions that are coursing through her body are perfectly balanced. She can't bear to part with the memories of her son, but she knows it is necessary to get her life back on the right track and for her to once again socialize with former friends she has pushed away. The scenes between her and Jason, when they discuss the possibility of parallel universes and that a happier version of their lives exists out there in space and time, is especially touching. She has received a series of nominations for her performance, including from the Academy. I don't think she will beat out Natalie Portman or Annette Bening, but it just confirms that the quality of the performances this year is vastly superior to recent years.

I have never seen Aaron Eckhart better either. Dianne Wiest also provides great support as Becca's mother Nat (who had also faced the grief of losing her only son), and it is exciting to see the great Giancarlo Esposito back in film. He stars as Auggie, the boyfriend of Becca's sister, Izzy (Tammy Blanchard). The excellent screenplay is handled sensitively by John Cameron Mitchell, who purposefully allows the camera to remain with it's characters to fully capture every nuance of their emotions. The suburban setting is sharply photographed and the beautiful backing score accompanies the action well. It was also humorous at times to keep it lighter than it certainly could have been. I really enjoyed Rabbit Hole, and much like Mike Leigh's Another Year, it is a painfully honest depiction of genuine people placed under the strain of significant changes to their lives. The event cannot be reversed, but how they choose to move on with their lives is at the center of tender examination here. Nicole Kidman is superb, and is one of many reasons to make the effort to see it.

My Rating: 4 Stars


  1. Good review! This was one of my favorites from 2010, and Kidman gave what was easily my favorite performance of the year. It tackles some heavy stuff in a very honest way.

  2. Thanks John. Yeah, i expected it to be honest, but it was lighter than i thought it would be. I normally don't like Nicole Kidman, but she was great. The Best Actress category this year is strong. I have enjoyed every performance nominated. I checked out your blog too. Very impressive work!! Thanks for the comment.