A great deal of films, whether it be low or big budget, are designed to revolve around one person. You can have the best supporting actors in the world helping out as much as they can, but it’ll add up to nothing unless you’ve got a strong lead for the main character. In these sorts of films the role is multi-faceted, driven and requires a presence that’s both understated and yet powerful.
Tilda Swinton pulls that off to a tea and deserves her Oscar nomination every bit in this Hitchcock meets family drama tale (ie. melodrama noir) about mothering instinct and how far that devotion will push one woman to cross certain lines which shouldn’t be crossed. The script and directing is top notch, the story keeps its scope moving forward and on a small scale creating a very believable series of events and decisions by the main characters – whilst the beautiful setting of the mountain and forest ringed lake combined with the wood house dwelling help give it a higher quality.
The first half of the film is easily the strongest as Margaret (Swinton) tries to get the sleazy 30-something male lover of her underage son Beau (Jonathan Tucker) to leave him alone – leading to a confrontation between the two men (the lover played with almost moustache twirling glee by “A Beautiful Mind” star Josh Lucas) which turns nasty.
When Margaret finds the older man dead by the docks, she immediately – and the audience knows wrongly – assumes her son did it and proceeds in a series of superb almost zero dialogue sequences to dump the body in a lake and dispose of any evidence he was there that night to protect the boy. Everything moves here with a superb sense of pacing and realism including the sheer blindness to the events by the rest of the family, the son’s confusion and frustration, and the mother’s fear and concern whilst doing action that would make Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley “Aliens” character proud.
One thing I really like but others will find frustrating is that there’s several wrong assumptions the characters make about others in the film (on top of the aforementioned murder mixup, her son makes a similar bad assumption about his mother’s activities later in the film) and yet it doesn’t matter, the loving relationship between mother and son in this is not only emotional – its enviable.
By the end you’ll be wanting a mother like Tilda and a son like this played by 17-year old Tucker who pulls off his role with total credibility and everyday charm. The pair share a great chemistry on screen, helped by the character dynamic of them not talking about his sexuality and relationship problems and yet the acceptance and love they share for each other overcomes it all but is never once played for sentimentality and culminates in a very satisfying ending even if a lot of threads are left dangling. The way things unfold reminds me a lot of the Aussie film “Lantana” which was more complex but this is easier to sympathise with due to the more hopeful upbeat tone and better production values.
Goran Visnjic enters the scene to blackmail Tilda and his first confrontation and the results of that as she desperately tries to raise the cash again rings true as the blackmailer himself is drawn into the crisis and becomes a deeper character than he first appeared. The second half unfortunately falls toward conventionality, the blackmailer’s over the top bad boss seems like someone from another movie, the mother-son dynamic is gone as the pair are pretty much never together again till right near the end, the pace slows down whilst the thrills just aren’t that gripping anymore.
Though Visnjic is good he’s not up there with Swinton or Tucker, all resulting in an unsatisfying and muddled ending which derails the picture before the final and very sweet scene (which isn’t enough to save a weak third act). Had the last 45 mins or so been as strong as the first half then this would’ve easily been a Best Picture contender at the Oscars, as such now this is still a very enjoyable and superbly acted drama that’s most certainly worth a look.