Rabbit Hole Directed by: John Cameron Mitchell Cast: Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, Dianne Wiest, Miles Teller Running Time: 1 hr 32 mins Rating: R Release Date: December 25, 2010 (Chicago)
PLOT: A husband (Eckhart) and a wife (Kidman) try different ways of dealing with this loss of their young son.
WHO'S IT FOR?: Filmgoers especially compelled by dramas like Little Children and Ordinary People, movies that have a gothic suburban energy and feature adults who are not entirely sure what they should be doing during intense times in their lives. With that being said, the material might be a bit sensitive for some, but it is handled without an exploitation.
EXPECTATIONS: From this premise, it seemed like this definitely would not be like Mitchell's previous Shortbus. It was curious to see how the story would explore grief. Could it handle the topic with the same craziness as something like Lars von Trier's Antichrist?
Nicole Kidman as Becca: She's impulsive as she shuffles through her world of grief, all the while cocooning herself from the support of her mother and her husband. When she encounters Jason, the original stalker angle does not work (Note: Kidman is too attractive to be shady looking). Kidman does a commendable job of showing an eternal chip in her character's shoulder without overbearing us with misery. Score: 7
Aaron Eckhart as Howie: Handled more subtly than Becca by Rabbit Hole, Howie is a business-suit husband who plays squash and often tries to stay calm. Whatever the character lacks in attributes, Eckhart makes up for in his performance that consists of brief explosive grown man freakouts, and a whole lot of tongue biting. Both of Eckhart’s moments of him raising his voice are impressive. Score: 7
Dianne Wiest as Nat: Also a grieving mother, Nat is a parallel to Becca who only creates a strong connection in her last talking scene. Some of her previous moments in the movie appear to be empty, but Wiest still holds our attention. She totally grabs us with her final brick speech, which is delivered perfectly. Score: 6
Miles Teller as Jason: Carrying himself like Chris Marquette in last summer’s Life During Wartime, (a compliment), newcomer Teller speaks softly in this performance that accurately captures the way an expressionless affected teenager would operate, especially with so much guilt strapped to his back. Score: 6
TALKING: Adapted from his own stage play, David Lindsay-Abaire’s dialogue is nearly worth the price of admission alone. The couple speaks in realistic tones, without losing themselves to overdramatic shouting matches. Every bit of the dialogue is tangible, with speeches about bricks, alternate dimensions, etc., ringing in the audience’s heart as graceful poetic wisdom. Score: 9
SIGHTS: Rabbit Hole makes it important to not give the center tragedy center stage – we only see the event once, with only a handful of shots, captured in a striking slow motion. The art design is drab, purposefully, while sunlight is used prominently and with striking emotional irony. Score: 6
SOUNDS: Delicate fingerpicked guitars are matched with patient harps in the film’s contemplative score, never used in a sense that is bombarding to the film’s quiet tone. A motif played strictly on a classical guitar is used only a couple of times, though it’s effectiveness reckons that it deserves more use. Thankfully, no musical piece in Rabbit Hole drenches itself with tears. Score: 7
BEST SCENE: Chills almost run down your spine when Eckhart shouts, "You've got to stop erasing him!"
ENDING: A movie that mostly avoids clichés punctuates its third act with an unnecessary gesture. However, the sappiness does not overcome the overall niceness of such a moment.
QUESTIONS: The film is dedicated to Samuel Latham Mitchell. Wikipedia draws up a couple of different possibilities for this name, though none of them seem to be connected to the director. Who is the film really dedicated to, and what impact does this mystery person have on Mitchell's decision to make Rabbit Hole?
REWATCHABILITY: A second viewing might make the performances shine through even more. Perhaps Rabbit Hole goes deeper on a second round. It’s not the movie you want to immediately re-watch, but I have a feeling I’ll be seeing this again (with its potential awards hype) in the next couple of months.
Mitchell presents this story softly, never basking in a climactic dramatic moment that other directors would tear open until they broke. Instead, he hopes that we’ll see into a the story’s honesty, and connect with it. Rabbit Hole’s larger problem is just that – it’s a movie one can admire, but unless it’s speaking right at you, it doesn’t make an immediate connection.
Rabbit Hole’s best feature is that it maintains its mood, keeping the dark cloud above the audience’s head for the entire duration (a fitting ninety-two minutes). It’s sobering stuff. At the same time, it’s also not a position that one may want to willingly put themselves into.
A lot of movies about death like to pummel its characters down to the point that they literally melt into tears, hoping to take the audience down to the doldrums with them, (the despicable The Greatest). Rabbit Hole is not that type of movie. In the new film from John Cameron Mitchell, tears do not come in the way of money-shots, and domestic shouting matches do not scream “Oscar!” It’s a movie mostly concerned with presenting what’s next for these characters, or with getting an audience to understand that while others may have left, our lives will continue to play themselves out.
FINAL SCORE: 7/10