Little Children (2006)
'Little Children' is a drama laced with darkly humourous undertones. Set in a bland and rigid suburban town, it tells the stories of three people. One is Ronnie (Jackie Earle Haley), a just released sex offender forced to deal with hostility from the townsfolk, pressure from his mother to stay out of trouble and be normal, and reigning in his own deviant desires. The second protagonist is Brad (Patrick Wilson), a househusband enduring a stifling existence raising his child and studying for his bar exam while his wife (Jennifer Connelly) enjoys a successful career as a documentary producer. The third is Sarah (Kate Winslet), an intellectual housewife who faces a future filled with the boredom of suburbia and who barely maintains any interest in her daughter. Brad and Sarah meet and find in each other an element of excitement and a release from the mundaneness of their lives, and they begin an affair while maintaining the guise of friends who take their kids out to the park and the pool together. The lives of these three characters cross paths and eventually their stories culminate in a tense and eventful climax.
The film is very sardonic but maintains a serious dramatic tone while still being quite funny and scathing in its portrayals. If features a very dry voice-over that enhances comedic effect. The script draws some very well defined and sympathetic characters whose loneliness and longings are understandable. Still, they are only sympathetic to an extent, and they all certainly have detestable qualities that are laid bare in the course of the story's telling. Even the more minor and supporting characters are fleshed out and come across as three dimensional. It's a testament to the director and his cast that, despite how easily the tonal balance could have derailed and how easily the characters could have become ones we despise, everything holds together right up to the end. The end, by the way, is emotionally powerful but does feel a little too contrived for my taste. Coming back to the performances, the three central players are fantastic and feel completely genuine. Haley is perhaps the most brilliant; he manages to capture the sympathetic and the frightening, creepy aspects of his character incredibly well.
'Little Children' is exceptionally written and put together, and features some sterling performances. As a commentary on aspects of modern society - isolation, infidelity, personal sacrifice, emasculation, conformity, the culture of fear - it is effective and somewhat depressing, though the humour goes some way towards alleviating any dourness. Overall it is a film well worth seeing.