Directed by Todd Field, starring Sissy Spacek, Tom Wilkinson, Marisa Tomei, William Mapother and Nick Stahl.

Todd Field's directorial debut is released just one week after Nanni Moretti's 'The Son's Room', both unique films dealing with parallel themes of loss. Exploring the fragility of life, both films also present an insight into how the death of an adult child affects a family and the catastrophic effects of grief.

The scene is painstakingly set, with much attention to location and detail. Ruth and Matt Fowler are a 50-something couple enjoying a relaxed Maine summer with their only child Frank (Nick Stahl) who is about to start university. Working as a lobster fisherman to make some money, Frank encounters and falls for local mother-of-two Natalie (Marisa Tomei). Estranged from her abusive husband Richard (William Mapother), she becomes involved with Frank, and along with her sons they become a happy quartet. Frank and his father take Natalie's oldest son on a fishing trip where Matt explains why a lobster caught in one of the pots is missing a claw: when three crustaceans are caught in the same pot, one is targeted as the intruder and attacked – something fisherman refer to as being 'in the bedroom'.

Matt, the level-headed doctor accepts the relationship while Ruth, a choral teacher and fiercely proud mother fears for her son's future. At this point the dread of losing her son to Natalie becomes ominously over-shadowed by the return of latter's unpredictably aggressive husband. Before long the tranquil equilibrium of their lives is shattered when Frank is shot and killed by Richard in a random act of violence.

The first hour focuses on communal settings: school choir practice, family barbecues and all-men poker games. From Frank's death onwards, it becomes claustrophobically taut, zooming in on the incomprehension of his grieving parents. Years of close contentment are devastated by their mutual inability to cope with the loss of their only child.

Field takes the unlikely pairing of Sissy Spacek and Tom Wilkinson and places them in middle-class Maine where their idyllic life is capsized by tragedy. This inspired choice of lead roles and an unobtrusive brilliance in directing turn what could be a sombre, depressing film into a captivating exploration of grief and loss. The space he allows for character development and the attention to detail in this film are probably due to Field's background as an actor. It is moving, without being forceful, unadorned but never sparse. Todd Field's hugely anticipated debut has already caught the attention of the Oscar selectors and while the ending disappoints, Spacek and Wilkinson should be rewarded for their astonishing performances.

Sinéad Gleeson