The inevitable custody battle pits mother and abuser against gay father, with the scales weighted toward the conventional couple.
To say that "Hollow Reed" is a movie about child abuse, homosexuality, gay parenting, and divorce is accurate. To add that it is a beautifully acted, piercing look at the subtleties of contemporary life would fairly say that this is far more than an issues movie.
After struggling with his homosexuality, Dr. Martyn Wyatt (Martin Donovan) has left his marriage to live with Tom Dixon (Ian Hart). Martyn's former wife, Hannah (Joely Richardson), lives with her son, Ollie (Sam Bould), and her lover, Frank (Jason Flemyng).
A relatively normal appearance hides Frank's monstrous perfectionism. He will not tolerate any deviation from his rules. When he orders Ollie to scrape the plates or take out the trash, he yells, "It could be so simple if you'd just do it my way," and then beats the little boy when he falls short. Cowering, Ollie hides when he can, and when he can't, heads across town on his bicycle to the safety of his father's love.
In a classic case of loyalty to the wrong man, Hannah betrays her son in a heartbreaking scene that leaves the boy stranded at the mercy of his tormentor. She returns to Frank, who fills the air with promises that he will never beat Ollie again. Even being with this man, it seems, is better than being alone.
The inevitable custody battle pits mother and abuser against gay father, with the scales weighted toward the conventional couple. It frames a familiar sight in our culture: a gay man asking that his character, not his sexuality, determine his fitness as a parent. The question is particularly poignant, set as it is against the traditional parameters of normalcy that in this case harbor the awful secret of a man's brutality.
With the exception of a final scene that borders on suburban melodrama, director Angela Pope builds her story with fine suspense and pulls marvelous performances from her actors. Joely Richardson is very good as the woman who deeply resents the husband who left her and cannot leave the man who abuses her son. Sam Bould conveys the terror of a little boy forced to create a protective world where none exists. Ian Hart's Tom is electric in his his hot-tempered determination to live openly and normally with Martyn as a gay couple. Jason Flemyng stops us cold with his portrayal of a beast.
Above all, Martin Donovan shines as Martyn. Having risen to the surface through independent films, he has the presence of a major player. Choosing to bypass the clichs of the gay world, he portrays Martyn as an empathetic, protective father who happens to be gay. Mr. Donovan creates a vivid portrait of intelligence and rage.
Once again powerful acting shows us the power of secrets and lies in family life. Fine direction, terrific cast, good story--how can we possibly ask more than that in this summer of volcanoes, floods, aliens, and the Titanic?
Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 494
Studio : Cinepix Film Production
Rating : NR
Running Time: 1h46m
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