This awkward and truncated adaptation of Jane Hamilton's 1994 best-seller nonetheless boasts fine performances from David Strathairn, Julianne Moore, and Sigourney Weaver -- each actor doing what he or she does best. Weaver's turn as the urban refugee turned rural housewife falsely accused of sexual molestation and murder recalls her strong yet on-the-edge characters in both Death and the Maiden and the Alien films. Moore takes her usual luminosity to grief-ravaged yet defiant extremes as the woman whose child drowns on her best friend's watch. Strathairn plays a boxed-in yet fundamentally decent family man in a role not so different from the one he played in Limbo. Throw in a white-trash cameo from the always watchable Chloe Sevigny and you've got a wonderful cast in search of a great script. Unfortunately, they don't find it here as production designer and occasional screenwriter Polly Platt, working with What's Eating Gilbert Grape alumnus Peter Hedges, flips the picture back and forth from small-town reverie to woman-on-the-verge histrionics to courtroom melodrama and prison exploitation. By the time rookie director Scott Elliott cycles back to his final examination of marriage, friendship, and their mutual discontents, the film may have exhausted viewers looking for a more traditional arc. Nevertheless, for those who can follow its sometimes difficult shifts in plot and tone, Map of the World offers up great actors exploring weighty issues with gravity and poise.
by Brian J. Dillard review