Tuesday, January 07, 2014
The Weight of Water
Based on the novel by Anita Shreve, The Weight of Water is the story of a newspaper photographer doing research on the murder of two immigrant women in 1873 while on a boating trip with her husband, his brother, and his brother’s girlfriend. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow and screenplay by Alice Arlen and Christopher Kyle, the film is an exploration of women dealing with the relationships they’re in with men as a woman in the modern world tries to sort out the mystery of a murder that happened more than a century ago. Starring Sean Penn, Catherine McCormack, Josh Lucas, Elizabeth Hurley, Sarah Polley, Katrin Cartlidge, and Ciaran Hinds. The Weight of Water is a messy although interesting film from Kathryn Bigelow.
The film is about the mysterious murders of two women at the Isles of Shoals in 1873 where a German immigrant named Louis Wagner (Ciaran Hinds) is accused of the murders. The film is about this investigation set in modern times where a photojournalist goes to the Isles of Shoals with her novelist husband, his brother, and his brother’s new girlfriend during a vacation. There, Jean Janes (Catherine McCormack) wonders if Wagner really did kill those women while reading the memoirs and notes about the survivor of those attacks in Maren Hontvedt (Sarah Polley) who would be the one to claim that Wagner killed her sister and sister-in-law. While Janes reads about Hontvedt, she deals with her troubled marriage as she’s convinced her husband and her brother-in-law’s girlfriend might’ve had an affair that leads to jealousy and other things.
The film’s screenplay by Alice Arlen and Christopher Kyle does have an interesting premise but one that is very uneven. The stuff about Maren and the actual murders is the most interesting portion of the story where it plays into her life as a Norwegian immigrant who arrives to the Isle of Shoals in New Hampshire with her husband John (Ulrich Thomsen). Notably as it plays into the life that Maren lead and the eventual arrival of her brother Evan (Anders W. Berthelsen) and his new wife Anethe (Vinessa Shaw). A lot of it is told from Maren’s perspective as it’s read by Jean who is fascinated by her discovery yet is dealing with her marriage. The scenes involving Jean, her husband, and the boating vacation they’re having with her brother-in-law and his girlfriend isn’t as interesting. Notably as Jean’s husband Thomas (Sean Penn) spends much of the film drunk and ogling over his brother’s girlfriend Adaline (Elizabeth Hurley) as the dramatic tension that occurs feels flat.
Another problem with the film’s screenplay that would greatly affect the film as a whole would be is lack of suspense where it does lead to a major reveal about who really killed Anethe and Maren’s sister Karen (Katrin Cartlidge). Once Jean figures out who did kill them, it does affect the suspense where it does slowly reveal many of the motivations behind why the killer did those things. It would play into Jean’s jealousy over Thomas’ infatuation with Adaline but also the sense of loneliness that is prevalent about her.
Kathryn Bigelow’s direction definitely has a lot of interesting images that sort of does makeup for much of the script’s shortcomings. Yet, it’s narrative doesn’t allow Bigelow to keep things interesting for the scenes set in the present where not much really does happen with the exception of Jean’s investigation to try and uncover the story. Bigelow does infuse a lot of style into the visuals where her best work is in the scenes set in the 19th Century as the compositions are stylized but also very engaging in the way she presents the drama and such. The way the narrative moves back and forth doesn’t give Bigelow the chance to really find ways to make things cohesive where there’s two different movies being played out. One of them is very interesting and the other is pretty flat. Overall, Bigelow creates a film that does have moments that are interesting but the result is a very troubled and in cohesive film that doesn’t do much to create any major suspense.
Cinematographer Adrian Biddle does excellent work with the film‘s cinematography from the usage of black-and-white in some of Jean‘s photographs to the use of colors and lights for much of the exterior setting in New Hampshire and places nearby in the different period settings. Editor Howard E. Smith does nice work with the editing with the use of montages and slow-motion shots to play into some of the drama and suspense that occurs in the film. Production designer Karl Juliusson, with art director Mark Laing and set decorators Laura Cuthill and Patricia Larman, does amazing work with the set pieces from the look of the 1870s home that Maren lived in as well as the bits of the town and trial she had to be part of.
Costume designer Marit Allen does fantastic work with the period costumes for the scenes set in the 1870s that include the different dresses that Maren wears. Sound mixer Mike Smith and sound editor Anne Slack do superb work with the film‘s sound from the calm atmosphere of the scenes in the sea to some of the chilling moments for the film‘s climax. The film’s music by David Hirschfelder is wonderful for its jazz-like score that mixes somber string arrangements with bits of piano and saxophones to play into the film’s lingering mood.
The casting by Mali Finn is brilliant for the ensemble that is created for the film as it includes some noteworthy performances from Ulrich Thomsen as Maren’s husband John and Anders W. Berthelsen as Maren’s brother Evan. Katrin Cartlidge is pretty good as Maren’s sister Karen while Vinessa Shaw is wonderful as Evan’s kind wife Anethe. Ciaran Hinds is terrific as Louis Wagner as this German immigrant who is proven to be a really nice man that may have not been the killer after all. Elizabeth Hurley is pretty much a waste in the film as Adaline as this very sexual being who spends her time in a bikini and topless for a bit as she doesn’t really do much except recite some literature and look hot.
Josh Lucas is excellent as Thomas’ brother Rich who tries to ensure that everyone is having a good time as he would show concern for Jean. Sean Penn is pretty fine as Thomas as this pretentious writer who deals with some demons though Penn doesn’t really do much other than drink and stare at Elizabeth Hurley. Sarah Polley is amazing as Maren as this young Norwegian woman who arrives to America trying to start a new life only to deal with Louis and the presence of her new sister-in-law. Finally, there’s Catherine McCormick in a radiant performance as Jean as this photojournalist trying to solve the mystery of the murders as she also deals with her issues with her husband as well as the demons that are lurking into that marriage.
Despite its cast and some amazing visual flair, The Weight of Water is an incomprehensible yet lackluster film from Kathryn Bigelow. Due to its messy script and two different storylines that never finds its balance. It’s a film that has a unique premise but falls flat due to its lack of suspense and emphasis on heavy drama. In the end, The Weight of Water is a very disappointing film from Kathryn Bigelow.
Kathryn Bigelow Films: The Loveless - Near Dark - Blue Steel - Point Break - Strange Days - K-19: The Widowmaker - The Hurt Locker - Zero Dark Thirty - The Auteurs #29: Kathryn Bigelow
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