Despite the success of his Cate Blanchett vehicle Tar, an awards darling and a stealth success at a faltering art-house box office ($30 million) even with a three hour running time, writer/director Todd Field is hardly a household name. In fact, he’s probably more recognisable to movie buffs from his quirky role as blindfolded piano player Nick Nightingale in Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut. Kubrick also cast Sidney Pollack in the same film (replacing Harvey Keitel as Victor Ziegler), putting quite a roster of directorial talent in front of the camera; whatever Field learned from the master, he’s put to good use because Field’s three feature films to date have all been excellent.
Field followed up his intense, breakout family drama In The Bedroom with an equally dark but just as compelling adaptation of Tom Perotta’s novel, featuring Kate Winslet as Massachusetts mother Sarah who embarks on clandestine afternoon meetings with hunko Brad (Patrick Wilson). Their initially chaste meetings, while their children play at a local park, gives way to a torrid romance, despite their family ties, specifically his marriage to Kathy (Jennifer Connelly) and engenders a secret that affects the way they see the community around them.
That disaffection becomes important as Brad’s friend Larry is suspicious of local outcast Ronnie (yes, Jackie Earle Haley), who lives with his mother and has a complex set of mental health issues relation to women and young girls in particular. How the community treat Ronnie becomes mixed up with Sarah and Brad’s covert affair, and final few scenes of Little Children are intense and powerful as casual deception leads to drastic, unforseen consequences. Wilson has struggled with typecasting as astronauts and he-men, but gives a mature, balanced performance here, and Winslet once again manages to conjure up the kind of authentic, vibrant character than made Mare of Easttown so impressive.
Sure, Little Children is melodramatic at times, but the 134 minute length is justified by the eloquent way that Field skilfully draws out the mores of the suburban community, and engenders sympathy for Sarah and Brad and their fight against the common denominator of the loveless marriages they inhabit. Little Children is an accomplished adult drama that didn’t find the audience it deserved; with Field’s star on the rise, it’s worth the effort to seek it out if you can find it on streaming.