It’s been a while since Nicole Kidman reminded us of how good an actress she is. It’s all too easy to poke fun at her Oscar win for her portrayal of Virginia Woolf and her nose in The Hours, and the 2000s were full of more misses (The Invasion, Australia, The Golden Compass, Bewitched, Nine.....) than hits. But every now and again she brings her formidable talent to a smaller film that is deserving of it. Rabbit Hole, based on the Pulitzer Prize winning play by David Lindsay-Abaire, belongs to the latter group.
It’s been eight months since Becca (Kidman) and Howie’s (Aaron Eckhart) four year old son was killed in an accident. Despite their best efforts, things aren’t getting any easier. While Howie seems to be the more positive figure, encouraging their group therapy trips, he sits alone in the dark watching home videos of their son. Becca seems insensitive and cold, but despite her insistence on keeping everyone at arm’s length she is clearly in desperate need of comfort.
There’s always a concern when going into a film like this that you’re letting yourself in for two hours of relentless bleakness and despair. However, those who are worried that Rabbit Hole will be two hours of Kidman and Eckhart crying and yelling will be pleasantly surprised. Of course, there are scenes in which the characters pick open the scab of their trauma and scream at each other, but it’s also a very tender film, with surprising moments of humour.
It’s slightly different territory for director John Cameron Mitchell, whose previous work includes Shortbus and Hedwig and the Angry Inch, but he’s clearly interested in how people react in extreme circumstances. He also brings a surprising amount of colour and beauty to the film, with the sunshine and greenery of the upstate New York setting contrasting with the cold loneliness of the characters.
Kidman is superb as Becca. It’s a performance that really showcases her range, as the brittle veneer keeps threatening to shatter. She’s well matched by Eckhart (The Dark Knight), who gives Howie a sense of wounded masculinity that’s balanced by his care and love for his wife. The two work seamlessly as a married couple, their affection for each other is clear despite the distance between them. Dianne Wiest (Edward Scissorhands) is also excellent as Becca’s well-intentioned mother, there’s a solid turn from Sandra Oh (Sideways) as a member of the group therapy session who catches Howie’s eye, and newcomer Miles Teller gives a strong performance as Jason, a teenager who Becca starts following.
There are occasional missteps. There’s not much by way of a driving force in the narrative beyond the characters’ desire to feel better. There’s a subplot involving Becca’s pregnant younger sister Izzy (Tammy Blanchard) and her new boyfriend which only works in the context of giving Becca something to feel bad about. But overall this is a superb drama that connects with the viewer and does not let go.
Excellent, with great performances from Kidman and Eckhart.