When first introduced to us, the characters in 'Little Children' barely transmit any of the complications in their lives. They seem to be living a tranquil, natural existence. Consider Sarah (Kate Winslet) for example, who takes her daughter out for a playground stroll each morning, or Bard (Patrick Wilson), the stay at home dad who Sarah meets everyday at the same venue, cheerfully playing with his son. A mutual affection soon develops between them and we realize that there is more to the setup than meets the eye. Both Sarah and Brad are married and discontent – Sarah because her husband has distanced her in pursuit of his own peculiar desires; Brad because he feels the pressure of a successful, perhaps domineering wife (Jennifer Connelly). As directed under the fascinating eye of director Todd Field, 'Little Children' creates a unique world of families and what makes them disintegrate.
Field has a slow-boil approach in telling his story, and if that distracted his debut feature 'In the bedroom', which had certain similarities in its pattern, it is delightful when used here. For a change, the canvas is bigger and the themes more obvious. Showing suburbia crumble under the weight of its suppressed desires and the underlying darkness lying beneath it has long been a favoured subject matter for filmmakers, and the script by Field and Tom Perrotta finds ample opportunity in a small town full of children where a paedophile (Jackie Earle Haley) returns home after serving a sentence. But just as the darker, scandalous middle of the film betrays the starts, the ending betrays the middle with a tonal shift that feels almost like a copout in how tidy it is. Also, not all the characters are well rounded. Despite the attention he has received (including an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting actor), Haley's performance, while appropriately tragic and creepy, exists in cliché territory in how the character lives with his mother and is even of short stature. Connolly, as Brad's wife, seems to be written as an afterthought whose only purpose is to be the frame of reference against which Sarah can enviously compare herself to.
But judging by the final outcome, these are minor quibbles. The entire community is vivid and otherworldly and the matter-of-fact narration, employing a cold, advertisement like voice over, sprinkles the film with dour humour and amusing observations. If 'In the bedroom' announced the arrival of an original, insightful filmmaker, 'Little Children' only fortifies that reputation. - Faizan Rashid