SIGOURNEY WEAVER plays Alice Goodwin, a school nurse from the city now living with her family on a farm in a small rural town. For the searing first third of the movie, Elliot's camera paces with Alice, quietly picking up the tiny darknesses that will overcome her when a tragic accident involving the small child of a family friend causes her to wake up to the delicate balance of the world around her. Elliot leads Weaver to a truly discomforting, slow-burn nervous breakdown; her face has never looked so fragile, nor revealed someone so capable of faltering. In a stunning scene that takes place after a school meeting, a barely hinged Alice is met in the hallway by two investigators, who grill her while she unsuccessfully attempts to maintain her welcoming façade. The risk and openness in Weaver's liquid meltdown produces a harrowing empathy. It's a great performance.

The film, though, almost falls apart with her. The death of the child explodes into unfounded accusations of malice, and Alice finds herself in women's prison, which--as in The Green Mile and every other sincere film since the dawn of cinema--is overflowing with people who just need to be loved. Elliot and his screenwriters, Peter Hedges and Polly Platt, magnanimously want to award dignity to everybody, but end up lionizing Alice in the process despite themselves. ChloË Sevigny, as Alice's sullen, vindictive accuser, is left stranded in one dimension. It's an awful long slog until Elliot can bring the film back around on itself, and claim that Alice has only just recognized the larger meaning of community.

Julianne Moore, as Alice's faithful, devastated friend, turns in another performance of such wrecked grace that it's time she's granted sainthood. Along with Weaver's career-high turn, her tormented luminosity suggests the broader, more difficult film that Map is so nobly trying to be.

Support The Stranger

Sponsored
Washington Ensemble Theatre presents amber, a sensory installation set in the disco era
In this 30-minute multimedia experience, lights & sounds guide groups as they explore a series of immersive spaces.