Little Accidents

Review by Willard Manus

LITTLE ACCIDENTS, the gritty feature written and directed by Sara Colangelo, is set in a West Virginia town which has been devastated by a coal-mining accident. Ten men lost their lives in the accident, which was caused by unsafe working conditions the company refused to address.

LITTLE ACCIDENTS deals with the fall-out from the tragedy, showing a class-consciousness that is all too rare in modern American films. The hero is Amos Jenkins (promising newcomer Boyd Holbrook), the only miner to survive the underground blast. Opposing him, on the other side of the class divide, is an executive named Bill (Josh Lucas), who is the most complex character in the story. Bill knew of the unsafe working conditions but kept silent about them to hold on to his well-paying job. Ridden with guilt now, this essentially decent man is tempted to tell the truth about the company cover-up, but can’t quite find the courage to do it.

Life delivers another blow to him; his teenaged son J.T. suddenly disappears. Foul play is suspected but can’t be proven until the body is found. Bill withdraws even further into himself, an act that alienates him from his wife, Diane (the simpatico Elizabeth Banks). This makes her look elsewhere for love and solace–-specifically, in the arms of Amos Jenkins. Their illicit and steamy affair puts a lot of passion into LITTLE ACCIDENTS and balances out the didacticism.

The film has another subplot, one involving Kendra (Chloe Sevigny), the widow of one of the dead miners, and her two young children, Owen (Jacob Lofland) and James (Ben Wright), who suffers from Down’s Syndrome. Both kids, the audience learns early on, were involved in J.T.’s disappearance but are afraid to talk about it.

With three of its main characters fighting the same battle with themselves (whether or not to tell the truth, damn the consequences), LITTLE ACCIDENTS sometimes becomes a bit repetitive and melodramatic. But fortunately Colangelo is able to right the ship and keep it on course; she does this by treating her flawed characters with compassion–-and by filling the screen with lots of authentic and compelling life.