Making a major change of pace, director John Cameron Mitchell shifts away from profiling the eccentric characters that populated Hedwig & The Angry Inch and Shortbus with Rabbit Hole and delivers an emotionally powerful film about a couple dealing with the death of their young son.
The anguish of parents mourning the death of a child has rarely been more powerfully depicted than in the collected vignettes of grief, anger, and forgiveness that make up this riveting drama. Rabbit Hole is a movie with “Oscar” written all over it but in all the right ways. Beautifully acted and at times unbearably tense, Rabbit Hole is a rare heartfelt and subtle film that never once goes for the easy cliche nor relies on a conventional approach. John Cameron Mitchel wisely steps back when delving into the domestic turmoil of an upper-middle-class family and the result is stunning. This personal examination of grief and holding a marriage together get at what most Hollywood movies never succeed in showcasing: a truthful look at how some couples cope with a tragedy.
Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart play Becca and Howie Corbett. Eight months removed from the day their son Danny was hit by a passing car after chasing the family’s dog into the street, the couple, who once felt most intimate with each other, suddenly feel disconnected. Struggling to save both themselves and their marriage, they reach out for any comfort they can find.
Rabbit Hole is emotionally pure and rigorous
Mitchell is possessed of certainty as a director, providing a steady hand and a plain style to the proceedings by stepping back and letting the story and actors shine. He has a talent for drawing us directly into his characters’ lives and making us feel what they feel. This is the kind of restrained, deeply human relationship picture that Hollywood has long forgotten how to make. Mitchell has made a movie in which everything feels organic and strikes an unbelievably effective balancing act between sincerity and well-earned empathy.
Of course, credit is also due to the screenplay by David Lindsay-Abaire (based on his stage play) which allows for brief moments of laughter to pierce through the sorrow. Rabbit Hole never feels calculating, never pre-packaged, and is nothing short of amazing. It’s the small details Mitchell & Lindsay choose to focus on that give the pic its emotional weight. Rabbit Hole treats its characters and audience as human beings. There’s an understanding of the way people talk and the way people argue and never are the characters prone to melodrama.
Rabbit Hole is a film that owes its impact to the careful work from its leads and will most likely be treated more as an actor’s showcase. Boasting standout performances by two seasoned actors, Kidman and Eckhart deliver real and honest performances while juggling quite a few different emotional markers for their characters. Dianne Wiest is also terrific in her quiet but key role as Kidman’s occasionally naive, yet sympathetic mother.
Emotionally pure and rigorous, the film should have opened doors for Mitchell as he shows himself more than capable of handling mainstream fare. Paired with the high-caliber acting, Rabbit Hole should have also been a serious contender in award season. And yet somehow, Rabbit Hole was overlooked by most when released in 2010.
A profound, deeply moving meditation that is sure to go down as one of the finest films of 2010, even if few people have seen it. Brilliant and heartbreaking, I can’t recommend it enough.