Apart from Baz Luhrmann's Australia, which had its admirers and made a small profit for 20th Century Fox thanks only to the largesse of the Australian taxpayers, it's been a long time since Nicole Kidman enjoyed critical and commercial success.
Since she won her Oscar for The Hours in 2002, the actress has made a series of poor career choices, reflected in duds such as Nine, The Golden Compass, Margot at the Wedding, Bewitched and The Stepford Wives.
But her star could be on the rise again after her latest film, Rabbit Hole, got mostly glowing reviews at the Toronto International Film Festival. Shopping for a US distributor at the fest, Kidman's agent CAA sold the North American rights to Lionsgate, which is planning an Oscar campaign for the film and for the performances by Nicole and co-star Aaron Eckhart.
Let's hope we get to see the drama about Becca, a grief-stricken mother mourning the death of her young son: last week the Motion Picture Distributors Association of Australia said there's no release date or Australian deal.
Marking the first outing for Kidman's production company Blossom Films, the film is based on David Lindsay-Abaire's Pulitizer Prize-winning play. Cynthia Nixon scored a Tony Award playing Kidman's role on Broadway in 2006.
Nicole read a copy of the play after its Broadway premiere. “I was just floored, it just touched me in such a deep way,” she told the Los Angeles Times in Toronto. Lindsay-Abaire wrote the screen adaptation and John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angry Itch) was an unusual choice to direct. Eckhart plays Kidman's emotionally subdued husband Howie, and Dianne Wiest is her mother.
Among the most effusive reviews, Deadline.com's Pete Hammond lauded Nicole's “brilliant” performance, which he judged as her best work since The Hours, and said it marks a “major artistic comeback after a string of disappointments.”
Awards Daily's Sasha Stone lists Kidman as one of six contenders for the best actress Oscar alongside Natalie Portman (Black Swan), Annette Bening (The Kids Are All Right), Jennifer Lawrence (Winter's Bone), Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine) and Lesley Manville (Another Year).
Hitfix.com's Gregory Ellwood said, “For a good chunk of the first two acts, it seems as though Kidman is delivering the icy cold and stiff persona we've seen her sleepwalk through so many times before. Then, first in a scene with Eckhart and later in a devastating moment alone, Becca completely breaks down and Kidman removes a wall of a emotion that she's often kept in-between herself and the audience. It's a visceral Kidman we've rarely been allowed to see.”
The Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt declared, “The performance is riveting because she essentially plays the entire film at two levels, the surface everyday life and then what is turning over and over again in her mind.” But Honeycutt cast some doubt on whether the harrowing drama will connect with mainstream audiences, opining, “The small screen better accommodates this kind of concentrated tragedy; in a cinema, the story becomes like those support-group sessions the couple attends: The film does achieve moments of catharsis, but it can be heavy going.”