The Door In The Floor

The Door In The Floor

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Based on the first third of John Irving's novel A Widow For One Year, The Door In The Floor is an intimate portrait of the breakdown of a marriage, set amidst the suburbs of Long Island. Jeff Bridges and Kim Basinger are Ted and Marion Cole, still grieving for the teenaged sons they lost in a car crash, trying to do the right thing for their four-year-old daughter. Into this situation comes well-intentioned but vulnerable teenager Eddie (Jon Foster), who wants successful children's author Ted to teach him how to write. As Eddie develops a passion for Marion, whose life remains centered on her lost sons, Ted's manipulative nature becomes increasingly apparent, but this is a story in which moral lines are never clear.

Fans of the novel will love this film, which has to be the most faithful adaptation of Irving's work to date. The set designers and costumers have gone to a great deal of trouble to precisely recreate the author's images, and it pays off - the Cole house and its surroundings are considerably more solid, more richly imagined than is usually the case in such dramas. The trouble is that - to borrow a line from the film - "it seems true; it just isn't very interesting." Somewhere between page and screen, what made the story so gripping has been lost. Though the performances are top notch, the script simply isn't up to the job of communicating essential internal dialogue.

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Basinger turns in a career-best performance as Marion, working very hard with what she's given, but she's simply not as electrifying as the structure of the story requires her to be. Elle Fanning is a marvelous find, utterly believable as the child whose familiar world is falling apart, but we don't see enough of her to be truly affected by her suffering. There are too many extraneous scenes and too many false endings, although the real ending works well. Telling the tale so faithfully without what would come after means a lot of time is spent building up jokes and developing themes which can mean nothing to viewers who haven't read the book.

Jeff Bridges is the highlight of the film, his relaxed performance enabling his character to move easily between showing affection, making threats, experiencing distress and taking advantage of others. This is a remarkably sympathetic portrait of a complex reaction to loss, enabling the audience to identify with Ted in his moments of peril without the need for moral approval or forgiveness. Whoever cast Mimi Rogers as the spurned and angry Mrs Vaughn obviously had a sense of humour, and the trick works perfectly. The only weak link in the cast is Foster, who is adequate but does little more than sleepwalk through his role.

It would be nice to see what this film might have become with a sharper script and a tougher editor, but it remains an interesting piece of work, at times compelling, with plenty for an audience to enjoy.

Reviewed on: 04 Apr 2009
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Portrait of a marriage, contorted by tragedy, blistered by betrayal, shaken by change.
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The Exile ***1/2

Director: Tod Williams

Writer: Tod Williams, based on A Widow For One Year by John Irving

Starring: Jeff Bridges, Kim Basinger, Jon Foster, Elle Fanning, Mimi Rogers, Larry Pine, John Rothman, Harvey Loomis, Bijou Phillips

Year: 2004

Runtime: 111 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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