Based on the short story "Killings" by the late Andre Dubus, "In the Bedroom" owes much to the classic tragedies of Shakespeare and the Greeks for its examination of the damage of violence and the futility of revenge.
Last year's best picture winner, "Gladiator" played on similar themes but, obviously, in a more spectacular way.
"In the Bedroom" is an almost oppressively quiet movie.
Naturally, the few scenes of violence ratchet up the noise level, but the most significant conflicts are between the parents of a slain child and between the grieving family and an insensitive justice system. These are scenes built around characters struggling, and usually failing, to find the words to express their passions.
At the beginning of the awards season, "In the Bedroom" seemed like little more than a showcase for Sissy Spacek. With each new awards ceremony she seemed to be headed for her second best actress Oscar by acclamation. Spacek won in 1980 for "Coal Miner's Daughter."
She collected one award after another this year for her performance as Ruth Fowler, the controlling mom and music teacher who has such difficulty coping with the killing of her son.
She also won the best actress honors from the American Film Institute, the New York Film Critics Circle and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. She then won a Golden Globe Award in January, and her award luck seemed to cool.
When the Screen Actors Guild handed out its 8th annual awards last Sunday, the trophy for female actor in a leading role went to Halle Berry for her performance in "Monster's Ball," as a black woman who falls in love with the white corrections officer who executed her husband.
Spacek's "In the Bedroom" co-star, British veteran Tom Wilkinson, is up for a best actor Oscar for his performance as Dr. Matt Fowler, whose comfort level is almost the exact opposite of his wife's. Wilkinson was named best actor by the New York Film Critics Circle and was nominated by the AFI and SAG, but overlooked by the Golden Globes.
"In the Bedroom" is not the only picture this year to receive three Oscar nominations for acting. The other is "Iris" with Judi Dench winning best actress, Jim Broadbent receiving best supporting actor, and Kate Winslet getting best supporting actress.
Berry's SAG Award win revived interest in the best actress Oscar race, poking a hole in the aura of inevitability that surrounded Spacek. In five of the seven years that SAG has handed out awards, the winner for female actor in a leading role has subsequently won the Oscar.
Wilkinson would certainly make a more than respectable choice for the best actor Oscar, but everybody expects that prize to go to Russell Crowe for "A Beautiful Mind," or possibly Denzel Washington for "Training Day."
Marisa Tomei, who won the supporting actress Oscar for "My Cousin Vinny" in 1992, earned praise for her performance as the older woman whose former husband kills the Fowlers' son in a jealous rage. She was nominated for a Golden Globe but overlooked by SAG.
Tomei is a long shot for supporting actress, which most folks in Hollywood expect will go to Jennifer Connelly ("A Beautiful Mind"). If it should somehow slip through Connelly's grasp, Helen Mirren of "Gosford Park," who won the SAG Award for female actor in a supporting role, may have a shot to pick it up.
Curiously, Todd Field was not nominated for the directing Oscar, even though "In the Bedroom" was nominated for best picture.
Field and co-writer Rob Festinger are up for adapted screenplay honors. The competition in that field is pretty daunting, though, and Akiva Goldsman is widely regarded as the favorite for "A Beautiful Mind."
Can "In the Bedroom" take the Oscar for best picture, besting the more heavily favored "A Beautiful Mind" and "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring"?
Well, it did finished second in the National Board of Review's final ranking of the Top 10 movies of 2001, and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association named it best picture. And after all, stranger things have happened in Hollywood.
So a best picture Oscar is possible. But it's wise to recall the words of Damon Runyon.
"The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong," he said, "but that's the way to bet."