“Please be a good boy”
When you have the sort of auspicious debut that director Todd Field had with his fantastic first feature In the Bedroom, there is a big anticipation to see whether the sophomore effort can bring the same intensity. The trailer for Little Children definitely set an ominous tone with its minimalist composition of frame, the sparse amount of words, and the foreboding train sounds heard throughout. It was a great tease, doing its job to spark interest while not giving too much away. I had hoped to see the film in theatres, but unfortunately Buffalo has not been graced with its appearance, as of yet. Maybe the Golden Globe nomination will cause enough interest to bring a print to a Dipson near you, I don’t know. I will say, though, if it comes to town, run out and see it. Little Children is not a perfect film; it is instead a mood piece slowly building up to a boil until it finally breaches and flows out at the end, engulfing everything in its wake.
Like many suburban tales of infidelity, this movie has all the generic ingredients. A father, that is trapped in a marriage where his wife’s love for their child is driving them apart from each other, making a physical relationship an impossibility, eventually meets up with a mother, who yearns to be independent and takes her anger—for choosing to watch her child alone, thus negating any chance to be by herself—out on the child she should love unconditionally. You mix in the breadwinning spouses with their own quirks and idiosyncrasies, along with friends and neighbors heightened to the point of caricature, and we have the recipe for disaster. Through it all, however, lies the x-factor of a recently released from jail, child offender whose role in this play doesn’t quite come to the surface until the powerful climax. His presence is at all times prevalent and yet pushed to the background enough so that the audience can watch each story thread separately from each other and allow the filmmakers to lead us on the path they have chosen.
Little Children is a deliberate and methodical piece of poetic narrative. Todd Field showed an immense restraint with his economical use of the camera in his debut film and seems to have gone even more minimal here. There is never a superfluous object in view throughout the film; each frame has been constructed with the utmost care to show us exactly what it is we need to know at that moment. When it seems about to cross the line into monotony, however, the engrossing characters on screen save it. Every actor brings their best to the table and carries the story in their actions. The juxtaposition of these real people with the overly stylized structure and background players helps bring the idea across that this is a storybook tale gone wrong. Patrick Wilson once again gives a pitch-perfect performance and adds to his flawless resume. He may do few movies compared to most, but he seems to have a knack for picking the best ones, see Hard Candy and Angels in America among others for example. Kate Winslet is wonderful as usual playing the emotional wreck of the story, a woman who never quite allows herself to be happy, and Jennifer Connelly gives a subtle performance as the wife whose controlling nature means well yet accomplishes the exact opposite of what she desires.
Field has put on film a very original telling of an almost contemporary fable. At every turn it is as if he is reading us a bedtime story to the point where it blatantly alludes itself to literature, closely mirroring the stories spoken of, including that of Oedipus and Madame Bovary. Our tale is even narrated, for its duration, by Will Lyman, yet never feels gimmicky. His voice leads us through the story as each frame is turned as though a page in a book. We don’t, therefore, watch a natural progression of characters evolving due to their interactions with one another. The film has always had a beginning and an end; we are just sitting down to find out what happens along the way. In other words, the idea of cinema telling us a story is literally put to use. Like any good book, eventually drawing its reader into the very fibers of the paper, absolutely needing to see what happens to the protagonists next, Little Children envelops the viewer with the desire to find out whether any of the characters can ultimately be redeemed. The beauty of humanity is that we have the capacity to forgive and facilitate second chances. Nothing could help us understand this fact more than the powerfully raw performances of both Noah Emmerich and Jackie Earle Haley. These two carry the emotional core of this film on their shoulders and are the epitome of how not to allow a mistake to shape your life.
Little Children 9/10 | ★ ★ ★ ½
 (left to right) Kate Winslet stars as “Sarah” and Patrick Wilson stars as “Brad” in New Line Cinema’s upcoming release of Todd Field’s LITTLE CHILDREN. Photo Credit: ©2006 Robert Zuckerman/New Line Productions
 Jennifer Connelly stars as “Kathy” in New Line Cinema’s upcoming release of Todd Field’s LITTLE CHILDREN. Photo Credit: ©2006 Robert Zuckerman/New Line Productions