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Little Children (10/10)

by Tony Medley

Good things come in surprising packages. After at least a decade of viewing Leonardo DiCaprio as a callow youth, worthy of not even a second glance, the guy springs out like a jackrabbit as a major talent in two films released one right after the other. After thinking of his “Titanic” (1997) co-star, despite her four Oscar nominations (which, given recent awards, really don't mean much), Kate Winslet, as not very exciting, suddenly she shows that she could be the best actress of her generation by taking a trite script in “The Holiday” and turning her role into one that is clearly Oscar-caliber. It’s not that hard to give a good performance when one has a good script and a good director. But to give a performance like Winslet gives in “The Holiday” without either, that’s worthy of Oscar consideration. She turned a sow’s ear into a silk purse.

But if you want to see what she can do with a terrific script (Todd Field and Tom Perrotta, from Perrotta’s novel), and a good director, Field, go see her in “Little Children.” Has there been an actress in the past few decades with such talent? I think not. As Sarah, she is a stay-at-home mother, pretty much ignored by her husband, Richard (Gregg Edelman), who would rather masturbate in front of his computer fantasy than make love to Sarah.

Depressed by spending days at the park with her daughter with three other mothers with their children, she meets Brad Adamson (Patrick Wilson), a lazy, weak, stay-at-home father half-heartedly studying for the bar exam while his wife, Kathy (Jennifer Connolly) is the breadwinner. Brad may be weak and lacking in ambition, but he is apparently a hottie because all of Sarah’s friends in the park drool when he walks by with his little boy. On a dare, Sarah introduces herself to him. Sparks fly and infidelity rears its ugly head.

All the while there is a sexual predator, Ronald James Mcgorvey (Jackie Earle Haley, who gives a breathtakingly disturbing performance), living in the neighborhood with his loving mother, May (Phyllis Somerville, in another of the film’s Oscar-deserving performance) and he’s being hounded by Brad’s friend, troubled ex-cop, Larry Hedges (Noah Emmerich).

These A and B stories result in a complex, involving sexual thriller that paints an intriguing picture of life and what we make of it. Despite its 2 hour-17 minute running time, this is an honest look at infidelity and its ramifications, a movie that never had me looking at my watch wishing it were over. Winslet is a genius. The nudity might bother some (I was able to watch it without averting my eyes), but this is a small, not highly promoted independent movie that many will miss, to their everlasting regret, clearly one of the best of the year. I’d give Oscar nominations to Winslet, Field, Haley, and Somerville, at least, if not Wilson.

December 11, 2006