“Little Children” is a gripping romantic tragedy supported by a clear visual style, passionately riveting theme, and engrossing multidimensional treatment. It is intense, intelligent, wry, and wrenching.
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Provocative and jolting as it is, the film uses simple and yet sensible extreme close-ups and viable montage shots (simple cut-to-cuts without merely relying to what special effects can offer) to show the world of angst, longing, and forbidden desire. All these push the underlining satirical and sensual aspects of the story of Sarah Pierce (Kate Winslet) and Brad Adamson (Patrick Wilson) in a wonderfully impulsive journeying into lustful temptation, dealing with the complications of an illicit relationship, and choosing between what is already a given and what is further desired.
Beautifully shot, impressively directed, and sharply written, “Little Children” keeps up with its multi-faceted viewpoint. It resonates a certain form of sincerity with its believable characters. Its richly textured narrative is full of intricacies weaving this slow-paced bourgeois melodrama with a refreshing kind of ingenuity. It depicts a shrewd look at the supposed civility of various characters whose paths crisscross in unexpectedly comic and tragic ways — as represented by an American suburbia of domestic sorrow, betrayal, and devastation.
It is commendable to note that the film, without compromising a play safe approach, turns out to be a non-biased offer without falling short because of its “open-endedness.” The story skillfully reveals a deeply absorbing drama of thought-provoking issues, simple and yet satiric humor, and compelling suspense. It embraces human nature instead of making it a mere cinematic fare to promote the required mainstream odds.
In this character-driven, slow-paced cinematic offer, director Todd Field succeeds in giving a breathing room allowing the scenes to develop in their own sweet time. This builds a seemingly real-life story of intertwined lives that try to deal and escape with their problems. The film’s masterful camerawork recreates a structure resounding a stylistic, emotional, and hugely absorbing approach. The screenplay delivers well in keeping up with such fantastic performances that make the story work in its required levels. From the hilarious dialogues to the most sympathetic lines from the off-beat nature of the script, it seems to provide an honest, non-play safe, and unbiased look at infidelity.
Well-acted and meticulously crafted, the superb performances from the entire cast result to a smartly disturbing character-driven story with a force of compassion encompassing the complications of human nature. This is complemented by a filmic audio-visual translation of the sharp observational comedies and painfully truthful dramas where each makes its own shifts to promote the feeling of real human experience. Indeed, the director calibrates a masterful mix of humor, drama, and tragedy as reflected in the film’s mood and tone.
Catering to the adult audience, “Little Children” manages to be both artistic and entertaining. Led by illicit passions, the characters cross paths in unpredictable and shocking fashions as the nuanced characterizations validate the film’s own delusions. It brings such brilliance on screen characters led by Winslet and Wilson as the adulterous lovers Sarah and Brad bring flesh-and-blood dimension to the story.
The sexual awakening of a bored, disappointed, and discontented wife may seem like an old movie issue, but Winslet utilizes her role with such candor that she succeeds in validating the story’s very conviction. Wilson also delivers well as an overgrown adolescent and a househusband caring for his little boy, while half-heartedly preparing for his third take of the bar exams. Sarah’s obsessed with porn husband Richard Pierce (Gregg Edelman) works well as a wealthy and distant husband with masturbation moments as highlighted by his online porn partner. Brad’s gorgeous, emasculating wife, Kathy Adamson (Jennifer Connelly) carries herself with such a strong persona as a successful documentary filmmaker. Jackie Earle Haley totally shines with his appallingly creepy character as the deranged, tortured, and self-loathing sex offender Ronnie McGorvey. His mysteriously dirty character gives an emotional disturbance rightfully fit to the suspense part of the story.
Phyllis Somerville as May McGorvey, Ronnie’s aging mother, keeps up with her character being the only person who loves her “society-damned” son. She also brings another dimension to the various layers of the story. The troubled ex-cop Larry (Noah Emmerich) turns himself into a self-appointed protector and a one-man “committee” of public morality campaigning to drive Ronnie out of town. He contributes to the further intertwining of the story as he persuades Brad to join a night football league of cops than merely wasting time watching boys skateboarding — when he’s supposed to be preparing for the bar exam. All these characters, complex and deeply-flawed as they are, turn out to be the “little children.”
Cheryl (Marsha Dietlein), Sarah’s friend and neighbor who babysits her daughter while she’s having sex with Brad, gets her into a book-discussion group leading to a relative clause in which Madame Bovary is discussed; and Sarah defends the adulterous heroine as somebody who has revolted in life for her search for freedom. The various reactions of the older women who easily get disturbed by such a situation are very much apparent in the scene. Meanwhile, the many elements of the film (being a motion picture offer based on a novel) getting packed in a nearly two-hour feature, makes this cinematic version a little bit flawed at certain levels.
The back story of Brad’s development (told through the voiceover) tries to fast-track a bit in order to explain why his mother’s death during his teenage years reminds him of his longed youth, while he frequently watches over the skateboarding boys of the town. Perhaps, the film’s slight inconsistency of having to require such a voiceover narration, which sounds like a high school educational film, becomes a major part of the story at irregular intervals. Yet, it actually disappears by around the film’s second half. Slowly, some viewers start to accept the said device, only to become a little more troubled by the unreliability it brings later on.
By turns, “Little Children” becomes excruciating, sad, sardonic, and at times comic. It is an engaging tale challenging the audience’s critical minds and human hearts as a richly textured and rare character piece. It becomes a profoundly moving tale about adultery tackled quite intelligently. It maintains a certain quirkiness from the novel in an unnervingly funny, fascinatingly dramatic, and quietly devastating fashion. It shows a society filled with moments of revelation, comedy, and emotional insight. It shows the undercurrents of being a human.
Beautifully crafted, sharply funny and emotionally piercing in the way it explores its theme and story, “Little Children” creatively puts together the various elements it needs to present the many intersections of life experiences.