In a year where Oscar candidates are even thinner on the ground than usual, Todd Field's intense, superbly acted chamber piece has emerged as a leading contender.
It doesn't hurt that Field is an actor himself: the Academy has always looked kindly on hyphenates. But if "In the Bedroom" does scoop a few statuettes in March, it will probably be down to its cast, who root the rather melodramatic narrative in recognisably human emotions and failings.
The peace and tranquillity of a small village in Maine is shattered when the son of doctor Matt Fowler (Wilkinson) and his music teacher wife Ruth (Spacek) is killed by his girlfriend's ex-husband.
Ruth, inconsolable, turns on Matt, whose own thoughts turn increasingly to revenge. How the couple come to terms with the crisis forms the heart of an unconventional thriller where no one is as good, or as bad, as they seem.
Thanks to a generous running time of over two hours, there is room to sketch the peculiar dynamics of this essentially loving family before fate throws everything out of joint. Thus we feel Matt and Ruth's tragedy even more keenly, and also its impact on single mother Natalie (Tomei). There's even time to explore the motives of the killer (Tom Cruise's cousin, William Mapother), whose fiery temper might conceal a core of genuine remorse.
Tom Wilkinson (the reluctant stripper in "The Full Monty") and Sissy Spacek gratefully flex their acting muscles in this drama that deserves your full attention.