reviewed by Andrew James
Sarah and Brad are both stay at home spouses who look after their children. After meeting several times at various parent/child outings, they become close friends instantly and eventually lovers; desperate for escape from their mundane lives with their respective spouses, it is difficult to keep this kind of affair secret for long in a small town. Meanwhile a convicted sexual predator (Jackie Earle Haley) has moved into the quiet neighborhood with his mother and the town is in total panic mode. Fathers and mothers are constantly looking over their shoulder to see if the evil, madmen is anywhere to be seen. A vigilante group has been formed by an ex-cop who takes his surveillance of the pedophile a bit over the top.
The film's style and intrigue can be accounted for by several factors. The most obvious is the narration given by Will Lymon. Instead of from a first person perspective, we hear the narration as though we are having a story read to us. The narrator tells us what the characters are thinking and feeling, not just making observations. It is a very quiet, subdued tone; much like you might hear in a PBS documentary on dung beatles. The whole thing feels like story time for adults. It's a unique and terrific touch that a lot of wannabe film makers would need to go back to film school and rent textbooks to even begin to understand why it works so well.”.
Possibly more obvious is the tremendous acting all around. With basically four main characters, you might think that one would stand out over the others (and according to the Oscars, two do); but I submit that each portrayal is totally brilliant in its depth and complexity. Two of the characters (Brad and Sarah) seem to be fairly everyday people that we can relate to with their ordinary lives needing some excitement. Meanwhile, the pedophile and vigilante leader both have deep seeded issues that most of us (I hope) can't really relate to. This gives us a feeling of creepiness and mystery. Exactly the opposite of what we see in Brad and Sarah, which is what also makes them equally as interesting; the fact that we can relate to them.
Little Children slowly builds to a quiet intensity as the lives of all these people begin to mesh in uncomfortable ways. This isn't to say that the whole story is character driven. It's more a slice of warped suburban Americana, that frankly, I'm a bit tired of. But Field does such an impressive job of keeping us interested in the characters and showing the absurdity of reality, that we can't help but stay involved. Throw in some very "it's funny cause it's true" type of humor moments and one or two truly shocking and eye-opening scenes and Little Children becomes drama at its most brilliant.
The one flaw in the film (another one so close to perfection) was a one minute clip that gave direct commentary on the Iraq war for absolutely no reason at all. It totally removed me from the fiction of the novel based film and slapped me back into reality. It was nothing within the context of the film that needed to be there. It almost seemed like a commercial it was so blatant and unnecessary. Fortunately it was quick lived and I soon forgot about it, but because of this ridiculous scene, the film becomes flawed and ceases to be timeless. It was obvious the filmmaker needed to mention his political opinion, so he just throws it at his audience right in the middle of this otherwise brilliant film. It would be equivalent to DaVinci writing "I am gay" in red paint across the Mona Lisa. It's really too bad.
Having said that, I can't recommend Little Children enough. It is a must see and I really think it could've been a mainstream film in the multi-plexes. But because distributors and theaters think we are sheep and will only watch remakes and not good film, they only release it in select theaters around the country and the majority of movie lovers will never get to see it. This also contributes to why it was probably not nominated for a best picture Oscar (though it did receive 3 nods in other categories - including 2 acting nods for Winslet and Haley). Feel the suspense and the quiet eerieness, not to mention the tremendous ensemble acting of Little Chilren as soon as you can. I am ammending my top ten of 2006 to include this film right now.
Listen to our CINECAST discussing Little Children (episode #32)
IMDb.com - full cast and crew
FLIXSTER PROFILE for Little Children