Adapted by David Lindsay-Abaire from his own Pulitzer Prize-winning play, John Cameron Mitchell’s terrific and moving Rabbit Hole checks in with parents Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart 8 months after they lost their 4-year-old son to a tragic accident. It’s that fuzzy time when the rest of the world has moved on and expects that the aggrieved have as well, but of course they haven’t. A support group for parents who’ve lost children has begun to feel like a crutch, or worse still a trap while old conflicts between Kidman and her family flare up and get in the way of genuine understanding. Inevitably, Kidman and  Eckhart find different paths and different speeds to healing, which in turn dangerously frays the bonds of their marriage.

It’s all grist for a potentially self-serving actor’s showcase, but the scenario is handled with a truth and sensitivity that will be familiar to anyone who has suffered a great loss. On top of that, director Mitchell wisely emphasizes a certain irreverence to the handling of grief, almost a gallows humor at times, that humanizes the characters and eases the pall of despair that would otherwise threaten to suffocate the entire film.

Both stars are excellent, allowing their characters to be flawed yet still relatable and sympathetic. Neither is forced to be the villain. Kidman can be a prickly actress, but here she displays a warmth and a vulnerability behind her character’s natural reserve that makes her easy to empathize with. The story mostly focuses on her character as she reaches out to the young man who was involved in the accident that took her son (a fine job by newcomer Miles Teller soon to be seen in the Footloose remake), but Eckhart also has his moments to shine as he in turn connects with one of the women in the support group (Sandra Oh).  Dianne Wiest is wonderful as always as Kidman’s mother, so much so that it’s regrettable she didn’t have more screen time. The same goes for Giancarlo Esposito who is on screen long enough to remind you how much you like him, but not long enough to really leave an impression.

Where Rabbit Hole threatens to run into trouble is in the translation from stage to screen. The dialogue has a precision and a specificity common to theater that doesn’t quite come off naturally. Though the action of the screenplay has been opened up considerably from what played on the stage, the words still have a preciousness to them as though they’re expected to carry the entire drama when they don’t have to. This is a tiny observation however, and not one that ultimately detracts from the power of the drama.

Another nitpick is the twinkly and at times oversensitive score, but again the quality of the material and of the performances overcome it easily.

Small flaws aside, Rabbit Hole is overall a deeply satisfying drama rooted in powerful material, perfectly executed by a strong cast and one of the best movies of the year.

13 Responses to “AFI Fest: Nicole Kidman in ‘Rabbit Hole’ (2010)”

  1. You can always tell when a film is adapted from a play, for just those reasons you articulated. I’ve sort of come to judge them on their own terms, as parts of a stage-to-film mini-genre. The theatricality of the dialogue detracts from the naturalness, and yet that dialogue is often precisely what made the material strong enough for Hollywood to want to adapt it, so it’s difficult to excise.

    Nice review. I’m definitely looking forward to this.

    Should make a great double feature with Beautiful Boy! Or maybe not.

  2. I’m certainly glad to see Kidman in what seems to be a revival of sorts to her career. This might be just the sort of role she needs right now. I wouldn’t be anxious to see this film without your recommendation, Craig. And Eckhardt seals the deal.

  3. Like I said Jennybee, it was a tiny nitpick and actually only something I was conscious of once. It did add a teeny bit of distance though.

    Pierre, keep an eye out for it. It opens limited on 12/17, expands on 12/25 and goes wide on 1/14/11

  4. I think this is what Kidman excels at, as she’s her best with little films like this instead of big splashy productions – except for Moulin Rouge xD

    I’m glad you gave this ur thumb up =D I’ll just have to wait for the dvd… or a screener *crossing fingers for the screener* =D

  5. I hope you like it. I’m surprised there isn’t a bit more buzz around it. Maybe it’s not overdramatic enough? I don’t know.

  6. Amy, I’m with you 100%. Kidman is at her best in small (budget- and effects-wise): dead calm, to die for, the others, the hours, the human stain, birth (superb quiet performance from her), dogville, margot at the wedding. Not that her performance in eyes wide shut, moulin rouge, stepford wives are not good at all. Carpe diem.

  7. Very nice review.

    I saw this film last night, and was utterly devastated. I concur with the four-and-a-half star rating, and am left practically speechless. My friend Broadway Bob seems to have preferred the stage show (I never saw that) which he claims included “important” scenes between Kidman and Weist that were left out of the movie. I argued in the car on the way home (Lucille BTW was also blown away as a mother of five would apt to be with this kind of material) asserting that stage and screen favor disperate narrative progression, and that I am sure both within their own parameters delivered the work’s power admirably. The performances were uniformly excellent, and of course in a chamber piece like this they are the main ingredient. Nicole Kidman was quietly shattering especially, but the others were all deeply resonant.

    This is surely one of the best films of the year, and it’s the kind of cathartic experience that practically leaves you unable to get up out of your seat when the film is over.

    Ten best? You bet. And near the top to boot. I’ve learned never to firm up anything until December is officially over, and last night again reminded me.

    I’d only take small issue with your seeming indifference to Anton Sanko’s lovely and piercing piano score, which is a vital component in projecting the proper sombering mood and aural autumnal hues.

  8. Glad you saw this nice little film Sam. I can’t remember now what it was that bugged me about the music at the time, but with such powerful emotional material I think it takes a light touch and the music was just a little too… something.

    Anyway. Glad you liked the movie as much as I did.

  9. Exceptional film. Definitely one of the best films I’ve seen this year. Kidman gives one of the best performances I’ve seen from her in quite some time and Eckhart is exceptional as well. Goes without saying that Wiest steals virtually every scene she’s in. Teller is also very good.

    I also really liked Mitchell’s choices. his direction is excellent. He really deserves an Oscar nomination for his work on this film. Hell, the entire cast deserves nominations.

  10. I liked how it’s a study of a crumbling marriage where the two people still love each other but external forces are sort of threatening to pull them apart. It’s moving and readily identifiable and you don’t have to have a villain.

    Kind of a modest picture really so it’s not too surprising it’s not getting more love.

  11. Although I haven’t seen the stage version, I really liked the obviously cinematic touches that were used — specifically, I can recall the sonata-like sequence near the end that cross-cut between Eckhardt going to see Oh and Kidman discovering Teller on his way to the prom.

    Every detail was so well done — for example, Kidman standing at the clothes dryer, anticipating the end of the dry cycle, carried its own meaning.

    I thought Teller was outstanding — a perfmance that’s a crucial part of the action and a difficult role for a young actor in that the dialogue belies the feelings of his character so much of the time. Without that pounding underyling tension, Kidman’s scenes with him would seem empty. I suspect the director had a lot to do with it.

    I also liked how Kidman’s big “crying” moment in the car was done with only intermittent sound of her voice. Otherwise it would have been too much.

  12. Yeah Pierre, those are all moments I was getting at. Even the big moment relating to the accident itself is handled with a lot of care and restraint. It could have been wildly overdone but Mitchell gets the point across without bludgeoning the audience with it.

  13. I’m glad to see at least a couple of people around these parts have taken a chance with this one. As you know, I thought it was great all around and it made my top 10. You won’t get any argument from me.

    Though I’d rather have seen Hailee Steinfeld get an actress nom, I think Kidman was very deserving.

    For what it’s worth, the poster which I also loved was chosen by IMP as the poster of the year:

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