This look at a couple beset by tragedy and its aftermath is raw, immediate, and uncompromising in its prologue. But, Pieces of a Woman is inevitably too fractious for its own good as it sprouts unlikely sentiment at its conclusion.
Not to say that English actress Vanessa Kirby isn’t anything short of amazing as Martha who undergoes a postpartum ordeal rarely depicted like this on the screen. Her professional woman looks forward to a new daughter with Boston construction foreman Sean (Shia LaBeouf) until the unthinkable occurs after a substitute midwife Eva appears in their cozy townhouse. A newborn turns blue and life turns obviously unpredictable.
The reaction to the initial visceral, bravura sequence may indicate how engaging the rest is as Hungarian director (in his English-language debut) Kornel Mundruczo displays noticeable finesse with his contributors especially in the nervous lensing energy that gives way to longer takes. Howard Shore’s score has an elegiac lilt about it with impressing of emotional cues.
Scribe Kata Weber harnesses a 2018 endeavor with the director based on her experience with the director that inscribes a level of intimacy here which is hard to deny.
Too bad that what emanates has the roiling of a rich complexity that can’t match what Kirby (known by many for her Princess Margaret in “The Crown) does from the inside out in a tricky portrait of grief that works is way through dark shadows often with clinical resolve.
Relationships that matter in Martha’s orbit are with a partner in Sean who confronts an addiction and response to the horror that mirrors her in a way. LaBeouf’s off-screen demons are felt in an uncomfortable, if underwritten part especially when Sean is inclined to receive what he deserves from his damaged partner.
Martha’s mother Elizabeth has the aging stellar veteran in Ellen Burstyn (Requiem for a Dream) able to command scenes and exact imperious fury that goes against her daughter’s wishes. As well as Sean’s less-privileged working-class status. Sarah Snook is a distant cousin who figures in the proceedings on a personal level as well as a professional one retained as an attorney in a civil suit against the harried, if culpable midwife.
The more showy scenes later on include a dining gathering and a courtroom setting that seems to distract from the main intent of the filmmakers. When Kirby and Burstyn are able to give their characters next-level power (even in quietude) this Woman threatens not to go to pieces. Yet, without a dramatic ambivalence it seems that Eva may be more empathetic than expected in the end.