Whilst Nicole Kidman’s recent Oscar nomination for ‘Best Actress’ at this year’s upcoming 83rd Academy Awards came as a surprise to many, few would probably still contest the decision having witnessed the Antipodean actress’ superb latest performance in John Cameron Mitchell’s impressive debut feature Rabbit Hole (2010).
Based on playwright David Lindsay-Abaire’s stage play of the same name – and with Abaire having personally attended to the film’s screenplay – Rabbit Hole is a smartly written, subtle, and at times genuinely uplifting exploration into the effects of grief and profound loss upon individuals, partners and entire families.
Married couple Becca (Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart) are both coming to terms with the sudden loss of their four year old son Danny, who is instantly killed in a collision with a car after running out into the road in pursuit of the family dog. Whilst the pair struggle to come to terms with this tragic event in their own way, Becca surprisingly finds comfort in the company of Jason (Miles Teller), the teenage driver behind the wheel of the car that took away her son.
It’s very easy to commend Rabbit Hole as a cinematic work. Both Kidman and Eckhart give excellent, understated performances in the lead roles, convincingly portraying the spectrum of emotions that grief can trigger. In addition, the supporting cast – with notable members including Sandra Oh, Miles Teller and Dianne Wiest – provide much needed depth and warmth to a film that could have quite easily slipped too far into either schmaltzy sentimentalism or depressive melodrama.
Mitchell does an impeccable job with manipulating the film’s sombre tone. Scenes of immense grief and desperation are balanced by some genuinely laugh out loud moments – a number of which come as a product of the mourning couple’s sporadic visits to a self help group aimed at parents who have recently lost a child.
Kidman has once again provided indefatigable evidence – if proof be needed – of here supreme ability to make the most of the material at hand. Equally comfortable with starring in the latest summer blockbuster as she is plodding around a sound stage under the direction of Lars von Trier (in the excellent Dogville ), Kidman’s undeniable, paradoxically vulnerable gravitas lifts Rabbit Hole from being just another US indie debut into a solid, rewarding piece of work.
For all its good work, the film begins to lose its way around 2/3 of the way in, and although present in the original stage play, the introduction of Jason’s preoccupation with producing graphic novels, as well as a number of meditations over the subject of time travel and parallel dimensions seem somewhat out of place. The significance of such concepts – when viewed in relation to the Rabbit Hole’s overarching narrative events – is vaguely tangible, but one cannot help but wonder how much tighter and more focused the film may have been with their omission.
With his 91 minute debut feature, director John Cameron Mitchell has produced an extremely competent and sophisticated drama, which manages to tackle a number of very emotive issues without making the mistake of falling into out and out, hyper realistic melodrama. Kidman may have little chance of besting the “Black Swan” Natalie Portman in the ‘Best Actress’ category at this year’s Academy Awards, but with Rabbit Hole she has once again proved herself to be one of the most naturally gifted, effortless talents of her generation.