The Contenders

Release: Nov. 3

Distributor: New Line

Oscar Alum: Jennifer Connelly (supporting actress, “A Beautiful Mind”)

If Todd Field’s movies reveal the keen insight of a short story writer on the level of Cheever, Carver or Alice Munro, the filmmaker arrives at emotional truths with more than a mere appreciation of literature and language. His background as an actor and photographer make his work fully fleshed out in a way that would belie his relative inexperience behind the camera.

“Little Children,” only his second feature after 2001 best picture nominee “In the Bedroom,” once again explores ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances and, if anything, Field’s strengths as a filmmaker appear even more pronounced.

“In too many recent movies intelligence is woefully undervalued,” wrote the New York Times’ A.O. Scott in his review, “and it is this quality — even more than its considerable beauty — that distinguishes ‘Little Children’ from its peers.”

Entertainment Weekly described the film as “a jolting, artfully made drama set in and around a suburban playground somewhere between ‘American Beauty’ and ‘In the Bedroom’ on America’s psychic highway,” and the Chicago Tribune called it “unnervingly good … one of the rare American films about adultery that feels right — dangerous, hushed, immediate.”

As he did in “Bedroom,” Field wears three hats: director, writer (he co-wrote the screenplay with Tom Perrotta, from whose novel the film was adapted) and producer (with Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa), and his influence can be felt on everything from how actors are framed to finding just the right public swimming pool for a crucial scene involving a convicted sex offender, played by former child actor Jackie Earle Haley.

Haley’s performance has been singled out by more than a few critics, but it’s Kate Winslet, as unhappy housewife Sarah, who relates to “Madame Bovary,” who will most likely figure in the acting race. The San Francisco Chronicle noted that Winslet is “an ideal vessel for the story” who has “nothing but good moments” in the film, while Rolling Stone judged her “never better.” That she has been Oscar-nominated four times previously will not be lost on Academy voters.

Jennifer Connelly, who has won a statuette (for “A Beautiful Mind”), plays the icy trophy wife of Brad (Patrick Wilson), with whom Sarah has an affair.

Among the tech credits likely to be noted by Acad voters is the cinematography of Antonio Calvache, who shot “In the Bedroom” as well.

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