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School nurse Alice Goodwin lives with her husband and two daughters on a dairy farm in a small Wisconsin community. After an accident on her property involving a friend's child, the town turns against her and Alice finds herself fighting charges of child abuse. Written by
When I finished this film, I was sure that it ran over two and a half hours. In reality, it was only 125 minutes. That reveals something about the pace. If you can imagine a worm burrowing through granite, you have the idea.
Actually, the story was a good one. The problem was the screenplay and the direction. This is a story of Alice Goodwin (Sigourney Weaver) a city girl who has moved to the country so her husband could try his hand at farming. However, this is no Green Acres. Alice is having difficulty coping with country life and her relationship with her two children. One day she is minding a friend's children and leaves them playing with her own children momentarily to put on her bathing suit. Upon returning, she discovers one of her friend's little girls missing and after a desperate search finds her face down in the pond. Subsequent to this tragic accident, Alice is accused of child abuse by another child who claims she molested him in her duties as school nurse. The two incidents together turn the whole town ugly as they assume she must be guilty. The story is an in-depth character study of Alice and her struggle to cope with both her guilt and innocence. The guilt is her feeling of responsibility for the little girl's drowning and the innocence is the knowledge that she is not a child abuser.
Usually I enjoy complex character studies with deep conflicting emotions, but this one left me exhausted. This is not because of the story, but because of the script and the presentation by Director Scott Elliot. Far too much time was spent on scenes that weren't really interesting or relevant. The dialogue often seemed inconsistent with the characters, especially in Howard's (David Straithairn) case. The lawyer was made to look like a buffoon. Having seen Arliss Howard in a number of other films, I know he is a capable dramatic actor so I have to assume this was the director's interpretation of the character.
Sigourney Weaver has received much critical acclaim for this performance, but I found it to be somewhat uneven. She was superb in parts, especially the parts where she was playing the strong woman trying to hold it all together. However, she seemed to struggle with the vulnerable parts, as if she wasn't comfortable with the character. I realize that part of the point was that Alice wasn't comfortable in her own skin and used a lot of defense mechanisms to cope, but Weaver seemed unnatural and forced in these scenes. She seems to have a lot tougher time playing weakness than strength. In that regard, Julianne Moore's performance was much better. Her breakdown scene in the woods was compelling and heartrending.
David Straithairn was well cast as the self-sacrificing and supportive husband, a role with which he is well familiar. However, he too seemed uncharacteristically tentative. When veteran actors have so much trouble giving confident performances, one has to wonder if there was a disconnect between the actors and the first time director.
Overall, despite some good performances and a solid story, the whole project just didn't come together and dragged ponderously from scene to scene. I rated it a 6/10. For patient viewers only.
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