Little Children

Starring Kate Winslet, Patrick Wilson and Jennifer Connelly. Directed by Todd Field.
Running Time: 136 mins.
Rated: Rated MA 15+ (strong sex scenes, strong themes).
Five years earlier writer-director, Todd Field, received great acclaim and Oscar nominations for his controversial drama, In the Bedroom, a story of a family whose son is murdered and how vengeance leads to further violence. Once again, he focuses on family, two families, but the issue is not principally violence, though this is a key element, rather it is commitment and betrayal and the testing of love. This time little children are involved.

The title could also refer to the two central characters who have not fully grown up and matured.

However, the context of this drama is one of the abuse of children. The film opens with the release from prison of a man who served a sentence for exposing himself to children. He returns to live with his mother - to the great alarm of the parents who live in the comfortable, middle-class suburb. When he goes swimming one day in the local pool, there is heightened alarm and the police are called. As the narrative progresses, the abuser's fate is entwined in that of the principal character. Jackie Earle Haley (the triggerman-chauffeur in All the King's Men) gives a chillingly fascinating performance.

The focus is on a mother in a loveless marriage. She is played by Kate Winslett. She has an often obstreperous young daughter. As she sits daily in the part with other mothers and listens to their gossiping, she becomes aware of a homebound father (Patrick Wilson) who has a daughter. They become friends, meeting every day with their children. This develops into an affair because the father's wife is a busy professional documentary-maker.

A friend of the father is a former policeman who harasses the abuser and his mother. This, in fact, does lead to violence in a way we would not have anticipated and makes audiences think once again about criminals. The abuser admits his psychosexual condition but we see him acting grossly on a personals date. This strand of the film is a challenge as to how society should treat its misfits.

As the story progresses, the complications of the affair affect both families, especially when they have a meal together. The resolution of the film is also a challenge as to how we see emotional and moral choices.

This is the kind of suburbia that we have seen in such films as American Beauty.

Fr Peter Malone MSC directs the film desk of SIGNIS: the World Association of Catholic Communicators, and is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.

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