© 2007 by C.E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.

As with some things in movieland, there
are two feature films being released about
gifted boys, both musical prodigies. But even
though the Swiss film
VITUS and the American
psychological drama
JOSHUA address some of
the same themes (notably the reaction of
parents to these seemingly alien children), the
two movies could not be more different,
although they would make great companion
pieces. While both boys are somewhat
manipulative, Vitus uses his intelligence for the
benefit of his family while Joshua -- well, let's
just say that he doesn't always have everyone's
best interests at heart.

I'm reluctant to give away too much about this
terrifically tidy thriller as I think an audience the
twists and surprises that the filmmakers intend.

Briefly, the plot centers on nine-year-old Joshua
Cairn (newcomer Jacob Kogan), a polite but
intense boy who is a piano prodigy. (He asks his
father if it bothers him to have a "weird" son;
that should be the parents' first clue that
something isn't quite right with the kid.) Joshua
lives in affluence with his bohemian parents,
hedge fund trader Brad (Sam Rockwell, cast
against type and delivering a strong
performance), and his skittish mother Abby
(Vera Farmiga, equally fine). Brad and Abby who
recently have had a second child, a baby girl
they've named Lily, live in a spacious apartment
on Manhattan's Upper West Side. They send
Joshua to a private school and look down on the
other parents who appear more conservative
than they. The irony, of course, is that they are
just like these couples they seemingly despise.

Brad isolates himself with his work and his
seemingly ubiquitous IPod. Abby has decided to
be a stay at home mom and is eschewing all
forms of assistance, including a well meaning
offer from Brad's born-again mom (the always
welcome Celia Weston). This despite the fact
that Abby had a bad bout of post-partum
depression following her son's birth.

Pretty soon newborn Lily is colicky and
constantly crying. The family dog drops dead
and other strange things begin to happen. In
the screenplay co-authored by director George
Ratliff and David Gilbert, seemingly natural
occurrences begin to assume startlingly
unsettling qualities. Abby begins to suffer
another bout of depression only this time her
medication doesn't appear to be working. Brad's
mom arrives to lend a hand and the stresses of
a sick wife, a newborn and an older child begin
to take their toll on Brad. Even with Abby's
composer brother (Dallas Roberts) offering moral
support, things spiral downward until the
unexpected climax.

The cast is solid, although Michael McKean as
Brad's boss is underutilized. Otherwise, this is a
terrific movie and one worth checking out.

Rating:                B+
MPAA Rating:     R for language and some
                       disturbing behavior by
                       a child
Running time:   90 mins.

Viewed at the Fox Screening Room
From left: Sam Rockwell as Brad Cairn, Jacob Kogan
(center) as Joshua Cairn and Vera Farmiga as Abby Cairn
Photo Credit: Jojo Whilden

© 2007 Fox Searchlight Pictures. All Rights Reserved.