“You did a bad thing,” an elderly mother tells her son who has been released from prison after exposing himself to a minor. “That doesn’t mean you’re a bad person.” Director Todd Field’s satiric yet brooding “Little Children” has the audacity to make three-dimensional human beings out of pedophiles and adulterers.
The film, based on a novel by Tom Perrotta and adapted by Perrotta and Fields, tells the story of multiple pairs of lives colliding in a suburban neighborhood. An idling housewife named Sarah Pierce (Kate Winslet) and sexually frustrated, stay-at-home father, Brad Adamson (Patrick Wilson), form a risky bond when they take their children to the town pool. A pedophile, Ronnie McGorvey (Jackie Earle Haley) is tormented by former police officer Larry Hedges (Noah Emmerich). Each character is written with a depth and humanity seldom found in American filmmaking today. There are disquieting attributes within each but also elements that stimulate our compassion — from the rash ex-officer with a troubled past to the timid sex offender who endures a great loss.
The cast is uniformly excellent. Winslet offers a standout performance by bringing a vulnerability and longing to Sarah’s predicament via a performance that relies just as much on the actress’s eyes as her vocal inflections. Haley rises to the occasion and effectively elicits the audience’s sympathy. His reliance on his mother, played by Phyllis Somerville, is touching, as he regards her with a childlike sense of dependence.
Field successfully molds the film with a style unto himself. He and cinematographer Antonio Calvache implement striking camera angles to stress the dynamics between the adults and their children. Through camera placement and architectural elements within the frame, the parents are depicted as distant yet connected to their children, mirroring the constructs of the script. Protective mothers watch their sons and daughters at a playground while they gossip over neighborhood affairs as though they were schoolgirls themselves.
A train motif is established by Brad’s portrayal of a train collision with his son’s toys. The muted soundtrack is peppered with haunting train whistles, which is indicative of the lives of these various people coming together.
Undoubtedly, the film portrays that something’s amiss in suburbia. It’s been done before, from the heavily lauded “American Beauty” to the sitcom “The Simpsons.” “Little Children” doesn’t rely on the stereotypes of these similarly themed works, offering us instead fully realized characters. As the Hollywood trend seems geared toward fulfilling a monetary quota or saturating a film with an excess of visual effects and pizzazz, it’s refreshing to see such personal and humanistic filmmaking.
“Little Children” was written by Tom Perrotta and Todd Field, and directed by Field.
“Little Children” received 3 1/2 out of 4 stars.