By John H. Foote
Sold to Netflix on day three of TIFF, I found this a tough watch which begins with a visceral, uncompromising home birth with a midwife that goes horribly wrong which is a hyper realistic sequence. The film is acted with blistering power by the astonishing Vanessa Kirby and the ever surprising Shia LaBeouf who consistently stretches himself as an actor.
The narrative deals with the downward spiral of a grief stricken young couple, Martha (Vanessa Kirby) and Sean (Shia LaBeouf) who lose a child during a botched home birth in which a frazzled and scattered young midwife, Eva (Molly Parker) is clearly in over her head. The birth sequence is agonizing to watch, with Kirby capturing the anxiousness of a first-time young mother who desires a home birth, places her trust in the midwife only to have a routine birth go terribly wrong, resulting the death of the child. Understandably devastated, the couple have very different reactions to their loss and their manner of dealing with grief. Clearly enraged at the confused midwife, portrayed by the great Molly Parker, they lash back legally when she is charged with criminal negligence. When the press gets hold of the incident, all of Boston wants the young midwife’s head.
Kirby is a revelation as Martha, gutted by the death of her child, reeling in grief, and so consumed with fury she does not know what to do with herself. Her relationship with Sean ends because she is unable to support him, and he is no better with her. They seem unable to focus their rage, unable to see past the event at all. It does not help that Martha’s overbearing check book wielding mother interferes with their lives, actually giving Sean a check and sending him away. As portrayed by Ellen Burstyn she is an all-knowing monster.
When the case gets to court Martha seems ready to fight, but when she gets there, she does not go in the direction we expect.
Kirby gives a stunning performance of a woman seething with rage, unable to process what has happened, not knowing what to do about it, how to process her feelings. This is a raw, visceral performance, impossibly brave from an actress on the rise.
LaBeouf continues to surprise and evolve as an actor. He is powerful as Sean, a blue-collar worker who slips back into bad habits after the death of their child.
It is a demanding, often very difficult film to sit through, as there is a great deal of pain and raw nerves in the picture, and there are some moments that do not ring true. However the performances ring true and carry the picture.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.