"You must see it on the Big Screen!" is a resounding call to most filmgoers. It tells us that the true experience of a film is to see it on a large, 50' screen with a crowd so we can have that experience - the rush of enjoying a film with our fellow filmgoers. But as bad as it may sound, some films are simply better appreciated at home. Call me a heretic, but I can think of quite a few films that I watched in a theater thinking "I wish I could watch this on my theater at home."
When I first heard Rabbit Hole was coming to the big screen, I knew I would go. I had read the story and seen it read before, and I wanted to see how it would play on the big screen. I told my wife that it could turn out fantastic - like a David Mammet work brought to life; or it could turn into an overblown drama to plead for an academy award. But my interest was really piqued when I learned that John Cameron Mitchell was directing, which made my mind really wander. John Cameron Mitchell is best known for his work on "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" and "Shortbus" - and this would make his first foray back behind the camera since the risky "Shortbus" had caused a stir in 2006 and, frankly, probably put a big slam stop on a lot of directoral works.
Shortbus is the kind of film that typifies the kind of film I would say: I'd want to see at home, but not in a theater full of people. But could Mitchell pull together the work of Rabbit Hole?
Rabbit Hole is a complex tale of love and loss; not for a partner, but for a child. It's a difficult story to tell because of the subject matter at hand. If you were to ask most parents what their greatest fears are, the loss of a child ranks near the top. Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart) have lost their son to a simple accident. No one was at fault, there is no seeming sense to it, no bad guy. Chasing a dog, their son ran into the road in front of an ongoing car driven by Jason, played effectively by Miles Teller. Through the story the central focus is really not the loss of the child, but on the fact that we all cope with our losses differently. Howie needs to feel his son in his daily life, to think about the good times, and to work toward change in their life. For Becca, she needs to remove the existance of her lost child from her life, to try and change things. When they meet with others, they find that they all justify, deal, or rage at the loss of a child in their own ways. Some miss their child but believe they are in a better place, others feel like venting their anger at the world. Divorce, loss, and avoidance surround them.
I had originally thought looking at the playbill that this was not the kind of film that Mitchell was cut out for. His boisterous early efforts with flamboyant sets and characters made for a real contrast to the quiet subtext required to get across the different situations that come here. But it's with Jason's character that Mitchell finds a real punch to the film.
Jason, a young teenager involved in the accident, struggles to deal with his involvement with the accident. Because of his car, a young boy is dead; and a family is left without a child. While he is in no legal trouble, his anguish is open and obvious. When Becca approaches him, at first she is prepared to rage with anger to find the person who killed her child. But what she discovers instead is a young boy who has a hard time forgiving himself - and through his comic "The Rabbit Hole" imagines other worlds where such terrible events don't happen.
When he finally confides in her "I may have been speeding, I was probably 2 to 3 miles an hour over the limit; I hadn't checked since the last block" (paraphrased) the scene hammers home that everyone involved has suffered a real loss; of a child, their innocence, of how they feel about themselves in the world. David Linday-Abaire, the Pulitzer prize winning writer of the stage play also adapted his own work for this film; and the fine attention to the way this plays differently on the big screen is incredibly well addressed.
Mitchell manages to turn a very "talky" theatrical play, which is so wordy that I've seen it only done as "Reader's Theater" and turns it into a screen story that manages to sell. Nicole Kidman is in top form as Becca, and the supporting cast flushes out a great ensemble performance.
The Picture Quality: 5/5
The movie was filmed on a RED Camera in all digital. This gives it a slick, very video feel to it and I tend to really like the look for this film. The flesh tones and bright colors leap off the screen. The picture has basically no grain and has the goes for a muted but beautiful look. I do not remember this film looking nearly this good in the theater. Sorry, I don't. Arthouse films, unfortunately, don't often find the best screens in our town. And while I love the arthouses for showing them, when you see the work as it's presented here, you realize that THIS is most like how the director wanted it to be seen. Video is presented in AVC with an average bitrate of 35Mb 1080P. The film is presented in 1.78:1.
Audio Quality: 5/5
Ok, a dialog centered emotional film. Mostly dialog. There are no big car crashes, there are no sonic booms, no explosions. Does Lionsgate skimp? Welcome to a DTS-HD 7.1(!) soundtrack. I'm not entirely sure if there was a reason for this, and I kind of laughed when I saw it, but when my receiver lit up to tell me 7.1, I thought, well, let's see. The dialog is warm and you will never be challenged to hear what is being said. I had thought originally that the 7.1 would be somewhat of a joke - what do you do with the rear channels and back when a film is such a dialog focused film? What surprised me is that it is very effectively mixed. The ambient noises, the soundtrack taper throughout my living room as the soundtrack slowly drifts around us. There is a moment, at 42 minutes in, where Becca meets with Jason in the park; while the dialog is clear, the sounds of animals, people walking and birds behind you is a strange but effective use of your rear channels. It's not overpowering, but it gives a real sound of "life" to the film, which I found surprisingly effective for a film about such dark subject matter.
The extras on this disc include 3 minutes of deletes scenes, and a directors commentary. There are no other extras. The directors commentary features Lindsay-Abaire, Director John Cameron MItchell, and Frank De Marco, the DP. I have to say, I put off publishing this review for a day because I actually wanted to finish the directors commentary. While dry at times, a lot of the information they provided really made me see some of the moments in the film and think about how the camera was used, and why Mitchell really turned into the right choice for this story.
The deleted scenes is mostly a just a set of a few scenes, but it includes an alternate version of the supermarket scene, and I really tend to like this longer version of that scene.
I said at the beginnings that there are some films that deserve to be seen but might be best viewed at home. Rabbit Hole is a testament to that kind of film. It was never in a broad release at the theaters, and it didn't get a chance to be viewed on the great huge screens. I love the arthouses. I will always support them; but this film IS the kind of emotional body blow that really should be scene at home. From beginning to end this film hits all the right notes it gets across all the emotional impact that the playwrite intended. Kidman, Eckhart, Teller, Wiest... all of the cast manage to draw you into a difficult story. The story manages to give us what a lot of lesser films fail at - not just the mourning, but a chance to get past it, to move on and get back to our lives. The laughs with family and friends, and the reconcilation with the new reality that the parents find themselves in without their son. There are some good, funny moments here. And there are some desperately sad ones. But it's the balance of the two that makes this film exceptional.
I will add this: if you enjoyed "The Hereafter" and "The Ice Storm" then you need to put this film at the top of your list. If you missed seeing this in the theater, do not feel bad - sit back with this bluray and realize THIS is the best way you likely could have seen this film.
US Rating: Rated PG-13
Film Length: 1hr 32 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Video: AVC 1080P High Definition
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1, French 5.1 Dolby Digital
Review Date: April 27, 2011