Film: The Weight of Water

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Film:

The Weight of Water

Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Genres:
Distributor: Lions Gate

This complicated mystery, directed with passionate intensity by Katherine Bigelow (Near Dark), deserves better than the paltry distribution it received in theaters. Granted, it’s a tough sell: a contrast between the emotional unrest in a group of modern travelers and a hundred-year-old murder case on a desolate New England island. A photographer (Catherine McCormack) is researching the old case, and we flip back and forth between time periods as she uncovers new clues. The parallel-story structure is often tricky to pull off in movies, and Bigelow, working…

Reviews

Amazon.com

This complicated mystery, directed with passionate intensity by Katherine Bigelow (Near Dark), deserves better than the paltry distribution it received in theaters. Granted, it’s a tough sell: a contrast between the emotional unrest in a group of modern travelers and a hundred-year-old murder case on a desolate New England island. A photographer (Catherine McCormack) is researching the old case, and we flip back and forth between time periods as she uncovers new clues. The parallel-story structure is often tricky to pull off in movies, and Bigelow, working from the Anita Shreve novel, doesn’t entirely solve it here. But the old mystery, set in a strict Norwegian community, is compelling, and the cast is stronger than the material: Sarah Polley and the late Katrin Cartlidge are stand-outs in the 1873 scenes, and Sean Penn (believably insufferable) and Elizabeth Hurley flirt naughtily in the modern. —Robert Horton

Barnes and Noble

This gripping drama ambitiously intertwines two separate narratives, combining the investigation of a 19th-century “true crime” mystery with the unraveling of a contemporary marriage. The relationship of these seemingly disparate storylines drives The Weight of Water, an uncharacteristic film from Kathryn Bigelow (K-19: The Widowmaker), one of Hollywood’s few female genre directors. It begins with photographer Jean Janes (Catherine McCormack), her Pulitzer Prize-winning husband (Sean Penn), her brother-in-law (Josh Lucas), and his new girlfriend (Elizabeth Hurley) visiting a remote island off the coast of Maine. Janes is researching the brutal 1873 murder of two Norwegian women—a crime witnessed by fellow immigrant Maren Hontvedt (Sarah Polley), whose older sister was one of the victims. The Hontvedt story, told in flashback, is particularly absorbing because, under Bigelow’s direction, Maren appears to be psychologically opaque; viewers might easily believe they know what she’s thinking and yet be completely mistaken. Obviously, there’s a great deal more to her than meets the eye, as both Janes and the home viewer will come to learn. The Alice Arlen-Christopher Kyle screenplay, quite faithful to the novel by Anita Shreve, is unusually dense and complicated; it eschews formula and defies audience expectations. Frankly, the material isn’t always well served by such high-profile actors as Penn and Hurley, whose in-your-face performances are a bit overwhelming. But Bigelow, who has shown herself to be comfortable with male-dominated stories of action and conflict, directs with surprising restraint and turns in a compelling film that ranks among her best. Ed Hulse

Related Works

Book:The Weight of Water: A Novel

The Weight of Water: A Novel

Anita Shreve

More than a century after someone murders two people on a small island off the coast of New Hampshire, a photographer comes to shoot a photo essay about the famous crime. As she investigates the bleak, isolated lives of the victims, she comes to identify with their spiritual loneliness. For her own marriage is falling apart, crumbling into nights of heavy drinking and terrible silences.

Incited by the chaotic forces that blasted the island years ago, this modern woman is drawn inexorably toward the violence of the past, toward choices that will destroy all she has ever valued. With exquisitely stylish prose and arresting psychological insight, Anita Shreve captures one woman’s journey into the farthest extremes of emotion.

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