It's somewhat unexpected to see John Cameron Mitchell, director of the very NSFW Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Shortbus, helming such tony material as the film adaptation of David Lindsay-Abaire's 2007 Pulitzer-winning stage play, with a bona fide film star in the lead (Nicole Kidman, who also backs the project through her Blossom Films company). Then again, maybe it shouldn't be so unexpected; Mr. Mitchell has always prided himself on uncovering the raw, relatable human emotions at the heart of unexpected, troubled situations. Rabbit Hole fits that like a glove, as it is a film haunted by what was lost and can no longer be.

     Becca (Ms. Kidman), the distraught, steely woman at the heart of the film, is desperately trying to leave behind what can't be overcome - the tragic death in an accident of her young son Danny is the tragedy that hovers above the story and touches everything and everyone in it. Adapted by Mr. Lindsay-Abaire himself, the film sees Becca and her husband Howie (Aaron Eckhart) reaching a point of no return in their marriage, struggling to cope with the pain but no longer finding solace in each other or in the routines they've set up. Ms. Kidman makes sure Becca's ruthless attempt at keeping her pain in check is a facade that cracks far too often, like a slow-motion car crash you can't take your eyes off of:  a black hole that sucks all attention and forces everything else to orbit around her, whether in the weekly therapy sessions she attends without much faith, or smarting around her family from her mother's (Dianne Wiest) attempts to draw her out by evoking the memory of a dead brother.

     In fact, though, more than a black hole, it's the title that best represents what these people are going through: a "rabbit hole" that is painful to cross and difficult to apprehend, an unavoidable and uncomfortable passage through time and space. The metaphor is made plain in a comic-book about parallel alternate universes being written by Jason (Miles Teller), the high school senior who can't overcome his own role in the child's death. Jason is one of Mr. Lindsay-Abaire and Mr. Mitchell's smartest coups in the film: the character's artwork and presence are slowly interspersed during the first act, but the real reason why Becca is orbiting the young man and the true nature of their connection is withheld until the last possible moment, thus allowing the viewer to make up his own story before the halfway revelation.

     It's also one of the key reasons for Mr. Mitchell's success in stepping up to the plate here: besides showing a dab hand as an actor's director, extracting excellent performances from the ensemble cast, the cozily diffuse, somewhat numb atmosphere he creates with the help of DP Frank de Marco and composer Anton Sanko, though a little overly understated, proves perfectly balanced. It steers Rabbit Hole away from what could have easily become a predictable three-handkerchief melodrama and towards a delicate yet no-nonsense tone that builds up its emotional impact slowly, by accretion, until, by the end, it hits you like a ton of bricks. That's a compliment, by the way.

Cast: Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, Dianne Wiest, Tammy Blanchard, Miles Teller, Giancarlo Esposito, Jon Tenney, Sandra Oh
Director: John Cameron Mitchell
Screenplay: David Lindsay-Abaire, from his stage play Rabbit Hole
Cinematography: Frank G. de Marco (colour)
Music: Anton Sanko
Designer: Kalina Ivanov
Costumes: Ann Roth
Editor: Joe Klotz
Producers: Gigi Pritzker, Ms. Kidman, Per Saari, Leslie Urdang, Dean Vanech (Olympus Pictures, Blossom Films, Oddlot Entertainment)
USA, 2010, 91 minutes

Screened: DVD, Lisbon, May 11th 2013


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