Joshua (2007): Psychological Thriller Starring Sam Rockwell and Vera Farmiga

Sundance Film Fest 2007 (Dramatic Competition)–An elegant psychological thriller, “Joshua” stars Sam Rockwell and Vera Farmiga as Brad and Abby Cairn, a seemingly perfect Manhattan parents whose perfect life begins to crack after the arrival of their second child, Lily.

The upscale New York City family consists of a father-husband (Sam Rockwell), a successful Wall Street man, a mother (Vera Farmiga), who chooses to stay home and take care of their newborn daughter; and Joshua, a precocious piano player prodigy

Like other dramatic features in competition, writers David Gilbert and George Ratliff use the classic paradigm of the impact of a new force, an outsider (here a new baby girl) on a seemingly balanced union.

When “Joshua” opens, the family is celebrating Lilys arrival at a gathering that includes Abbys effete brother (Dallas Roberts), Brads down-home mother (Celia Weston), and their nine-year-old son Joshua, who plays the piano beautifully; we soon learn that Joshua is something of a prodigy. But Joshua proves that he is as adept at manipulation as he is at playing the piano.

The film is written by David Gilbert and George Ratliff, and directed by Ratliff (who previously made the documentary Hell House), who makes a rather smooth transition to feature moviemaking.

The story explores one of the most difficult choices any parent has to make, namely, whether or not to have a child. It’s a major, life-changing decision with profound consequenceseven if the parents are in accord and everything goes all right.

On one level, “Joshua” is a genre picture, a contemporary psychological thriller, but on another, it deviates from some of the prevalent conventions, which cannot be disclosed here.

Nicely photographed by Benot Debie (Irreversible), the film boasts gorgeous New York real estate and locations, and score by Nico Muhly evokes the right mood in a story whose tone changes quite a bit from scene to scene.

But ultimately “Joshua” belongs to its splendid cast. Sam Rockwell, looking and sounding more mature, continues to surprise us with his versatility; most audiences know him as a comic actor. Vera Farmiga (who can also be seen this year in the dramatic competition entry “Never Forever”) is quickly becoming a great actress, after her lead in “Down to the Bone,” for which she won the L.A. Film Critics Association Best Actress Award, and supporting turn as the only femme in Scorsese’s highly acclaimed Oscar nominee, “The Departed.”

In the title role, Jacob Kogan gives a chilly, captivating performance, joining a small number of talented kids who have played bad seeds and villainous roles before him.