Fear, grief, anger, self-doubt, and unfaced terror provide the material from which monsters build kingdoms inside us. They clomp around in our nightmares and sneak into our waking moments. Eventually we must come face-to-face with these monsters. That is the theme of Jack the Bear.

John Leary has moved with his two sons, Jack, a 12 year old, and Dylan, a three year old, to a ramshackle old house in Oakland. His wife recently died in an automobile wreck, and the family has been buried beneath a tidal wave of grief. John, who hosts a late night creature-feature TV show, is drinking heavily. Jack, the narrator of the film, loves his father but worries about his angry outbursts.

The whole neighborhood is on edge about Norman Strick, a lonely man who frightens the children with his weirdness. When John learns on Halloween night that Strick is a Nazi who hates blacks and Jews, he goes berserk in the studio with a tirade against bigots. Things progress from bad to worse for John and his two sons. Before long, Jack has learned that monsters are very real, and some "live in the darkest chambers of our heart."

Steve Zaillian has brilliantly adapted Dan McCall's 1974 novel for the screen. In his debut as a feature film director, Marshall Herskovitz, co-creator of the TV series Thirtysomething, has fashioned an emotionally riveting film about the monsters adults and children must confront in a world convulsed with loss. Time alone cannot defeat the monsters of grief and anger. Love and hope, however, are powerful antidotes which start the process of healing. Don't miss Jack the Bear.