Campus shooting shocks families
After a campus murder-suicide spree, Kate and Bill Carroll call their son Sammy to make sure he’s all right. Suddenly there’s a knock on the door. Not only has Sammy died. He was the shooter.
Produced after the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings, Beautiful Boy captures a change of heart. Maria Bello and Michael Sheen fascinate as agonized parents forced to open their hearts to each other just to survive.
Marriage in trouble
As the film opens, Kate and Bill sleep in separate beds. Bill wants to move to his own apartment and start over. Kate tries to reunite the family one last time by proposing a Miami vacation.
They stayed together for Sammy’s sake. When he calls them for the last time, Sammy sounds distant and withdrawn. Bill hangs up and goes to bed. Kate persists, asking the 18-year-old how he is.
As Sammy rambles on about snowflakes, she listens. Freshman year is hard for everyone, Kate reassures him. The boy has always been different, quiet and sensitive.
Bello, Sheen outstanding
Bello (A History of Violence; Prime Suspect) is stunning. Her evolution as an actor is clear as she balances rage, honesty and heartbreak. She unleashes a firestorm of denial, grief and coping.
Sheen (the London stage veteran who played David Frost in Frost/Nixon) is excellent as a man of long-suppressed emotions who hardly knows himself.
Bill moves like a robot each day between home and office. Already an emotional fugitive, he flees further within after the massacre.
Kyle Gallner plays troubled Sammy
Kyle Gallner (CSI: NY; A Nightmare on Elm Street) perfectly captures depressed, troubled Sammy. His eyes say so much more than he does. Television news reports reveal that he slayed 21 before killing himself.
Besieged by reporters, the devastated couple hides in their own home before taking refuge with Kate’s brother Eric (Alan Tudyk) and his wife Trish (Moon Bloodgood). Trish’s alarmed, well-meaning questions only intensify their pain.
Healing begins. As each moment passes, even mundane chores become accomplishments. Michael Fimognari creates intimacy and a dream-like aesthetic with a hand-held camera. Ku wrote the screenplay with Michael Armbruster.
Beautiful Boy is an autopsy of a marriage. Kate and Bill grow closer and careen apart. They lash out at themselves and each other. They collapse in exhaustion.
Perfectionist Kate is a proofreader. She edits the couple’s media statement, allowing Bill to face the reporters himself. Kate also inspires an opportunistic young novelist Cooper (Austin Nichols).
Making sense of tragedy
Trish gets upset when her house guest begins “fixing” their home and reading bedtime stories to their little boy. The Carrolls move to a motel.
Bill’s pain is primal. Meanwhile Kate rifles through Sammy’s bedroom. She reads his school papers. Grasping for answers, the parents are left with uncertainty.
“I don’t believe in monsters.”
Everyone is touched in some way by the incident. Even a motel clerk (Meat Loaf Aday) learns compassion when the mother and father seek refuge. They become real to him.
“I don’t believe in monsters,” Ku says on the film’s website. Beautiful Boy not only made me empathize with the parents. It reminded me that I am my brother’s keeper. (4.5 out of 5 stars)
If you like Beautiful Boy, you might enjoy: Rabbit Hole.
Beautiful Boy 2010 / R / 1 hour, 40 min
Cast Overview: Michael Sheen, Maria Bello, Alan Tudyk, Moon Bloodgood, Kyle Gallner, Austin Nichols, Meat Loaf Aday
Director: Shawn Ku