Review: Birth

Posted by: Mark McLeod  //  October 29, 2004 @ 11:59am

Filed under: Movie Reviews 

Anna (Nicole Kidman) and Sean are a happy couple. Anna has a good job at a New York City marketing firm and Sean is happy and enjoys spending most of his spare time jogging in Central Park. One winter's day, he collapses suddenly and without reason, and once the medical reports come in he has passed on, leaving Anna a widow in her mid thirties/early forties. 10 years pass and Anna is finally happy again. After waiting a year before she would even date him and even longer before she agreed to be married, she is finally getting ready to tie the knot with Joseph (Silver City's Danny Huston). On the night of their engagement party at their swank upper west side apartment building, the two are interrupted by a strange young boy (Cameron Bright) who somehow has managed to get into the building despite the presence of a doorman and a rather complex-looking security system. Once inside, he demands to speak to Anna in private and introduces himself as Sean, her ex-husband. Initially, Anna and Joseph and their guests don't believe the young man and ask him to leave, but as he keeps continuing to try and speak to her and sends her letter after letter, Anna begins to take interest " especially after the boy reveals detail after detail about his marriage to Anna. Slowly but surely, she feels there's a connection there and spends almost every second with the young boy, taking him out to eat and even sitting in a bathtub together. Before long, the two are inseparable, and everyone around Anna threatens to expose her to the boy's parents who for the most part are absent and not concerned with their quiet yet odd young son hanging out with a woman some twenty to thirty years his senior.

Birth is the second feature from director Jonathan Glazer, who was responsible for the very different Sexy Beast, which garnered strong reviews from critics on both sides of the Atlantic. Now he's back with this motion picture, which has in production and on the film festival circuit caused some controversy for the fact that Nicole Kidman not only bathes with a young boy but also kisses him in what some have been calling a rather passionate embrace. First off, let's address the controversy. Sure the storyline of the film is a bit creepy and has undertones of pedophilia, but never once during the marathon running time of 100 minutes did I ever really feel a true connection between Nicole Kidman's Anna and Cameron Bright's Sean. Sure, they share what some people could consider "steamy" moments, but if the audience reaction at the press screening I attended in Vancouver is any indicator, the so-called sensitive scenes are going to have audiences rolling in the aisle's laughing, as will much of the film's limited amount of dialogue. Director Jonathan Glazer, working off a screenplay he contributed to with Milos Addica and Jean Claude Carrieere, has fashioned a story with a good solid concept that isn't taken full advantage of. Just why does young Sean feel he's Anna's husband? And just how did he know how to gain access to her life? These questions and many others are never explored. Instead, Glazer spends an enormous amount of time setting up shots and lingering on things like facial close-ups, sometimes in upwards of what seems to be two minutes at a time. Pacing is deliberately slow, and while the first hour " which did have some merit " went by at a decent rate, the last 45 minutes dragged on and on. It just seemed as though nothing new happened and when something did occur, I could have cared less.

Moving to the acting side of things, Glazer was able to assemble a pretty strong cast for only his second picture, though casting Ben Kingsley in his first probably remains the smartest and luckiest move for the young music video director. In the lead role of Anna we have Nicole Kidman, who may not be the best actress on the planet but can " when given strong material " do relatively good work. A good example of this would be Moulin Rouge or The Others, or Lars Von Trier's Dogville from earlier this year. However, when the material is lacking, her performance can be all over the map. Here, she gives a merely adequate performance as she sleepwalks through this boring piece of motion picture filmmaking. Kidman has very little dialogue, though more than her young co-star, and her pixie haircut distances us from her other more memorable roles. Really, there's nothing to be impressed with. She isn't really sexy, nor did I feel the chemistry with Cameron Bright was anything to write home about. Simply put she does an ok job but probably was of interest to the filmmakers for the marquee value of casting her. Cameron Bright on the other hand gives another good performance, if not anything refreshingly new from the young B.C.-born actor. Bright has appeared in three films in the past year, each playing a creepy kid. He was the sole bright spot in the laughable Godsend and here he builds upon that character to some extent. I'd like to see Bright expand his resume and do something different for his next role. Danny Huston, brother to Angelica, is all right as Anna's fiance Joseph, but don't kid yourself " he really has nothing more to do than to question just why his fiance is slowly going mad with child lust. Lauren Bacall has nothing to do and Anne Heche plays a relatively normal woman who seems to be along for the ride and to try and tie up some loose ends.

The problems with Birth are three-fold. First of all, nothing happens. If you've read the synopsis of the film you know just as much as you will at the end of the 100 butt-numbing minutes. This film, like The Forgotten before it in September, has the potential to go somewhere and explore an interesting paranormal or mysterious subject matter. Instead, it plays by the numbers and comes to a rather quick and unsatisfactory conclusion. Really, it's a cop-out when you've invested all this time in something and then suddenly it takes a total 180-degree turn. The second problem is that, despite all the controversy, there isn't anything overly questionable in the film. Sure Nicole Kidman kisses a young boy and gets in a bathtub with him. It's not sexy, though, and those who think it is may have some deep-seated issues of their own they may want to address sooner or later. Lastly, the film is just poorly put together overall; the cinematography is kind of dreary, the acting is nothing special, and the screenplay... well man, does that screenplay need help! In short, when it comes to Birth, it's a case of much ado about nothing and it seems as though New Line Cinema (the American distributor) knows this, as the film is only getting a 450-screen release in the U.S. with 50 total screens in Canada. If you really have to see this movie for curiosity's sake, then just wait for what is sure to be a quick arrival on DVD.

Mark McLeod has always loved film. In addition to his roles with, Mark also works on many film promotion projects in Vancouver, BC, through his company, Mark McLeod PR.

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