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Screaming Females - Castle Talk
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The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
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The Walkmen - Lisbon
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Lisbon
Fat Possum
LOSTATSEA.NET > FEATURES >

February 22, 2007
It's difficult to pinpoint what it is that's wrong with The Painted Veil, since it includes a fair amount of likeable aspects. Great acting? Check. Breathtaking cinematography? Check. Moving situations to which we all can relate? Well, the "punishing your cheating wife by blackmailing her into accompanying you to a cholera-infested part of China" is certainly a popular relationship manipulation tactic, second only to "using sex as a weapon," so I won't knock the film for its basic premise, but there was something inherently unbelievable lurking in every dark corner, something false and artificial. You know, that element that causes you to laugh at the serious parts and roll your eyes during the lighthearted parts.

Obviously, producers/stars Edward Norton and Naomi Watts saw a need to remake the 1934 film of the same name in a way that goes beyond aggrandizing their already stellar reputations as actors, otherwise the film would have received much more mainstream pomp than it did. And it honestly feels like their intentions as well as their performances were sound: it's a compelling story set against the stunning backdrop of rural China in which everybody gets to have a passionate love and/or death scene. I'd have pushed to get the movie made too! The only thing to blame, from what I can tell, is John Curran's direction.

A lot of it is a question of timing. The film just moves too quickly past periods during which relationships are being forged, so we as an audience are unsure as to the nature of them. Luckily Kitty (Watts) and her bacteriologist husband, Walter (Norton), have some nice scenes in which the troubled couple neatly sum up characteristics about themselves and their marriage, affording the audience an easy way to catch up and displaying a clear mark of laziness on the director's part. There are key elements that we should have been shown beforehand, not told in "I'm the kind of person who likes this, while you're the kind of person who likes that" sentences. We need to be asking ourselves the question Who is Walter really punishing here, Kitty or himself?" without the benefit of dialogue that is almost word-for-word: "How long will you punish me?", "I'm punishing myself!"

Also, cholera, the ever-present evil, is so obviously going to endanger someone's life that we spend the better part of the film bracing for impact. The two main characters speak of it constantly, coming into perilously close contact with sick people, diseased water, and broken test tubes of bacteria specimens. When it finally rears its ugly head, it's almost a relief, having loomed over the two star-crossed lovers for so long. What follows is a melodrama of confessions and conclusions, hastily wrapped up with the worst epilogue in film history, in which already-too-obvious symbolism from the beginning of the film is recycled and unnecessarily explained.

The beauty of the locale and the talent of the actors couldn't save this film from mediocrity, but it can, I learned, be turned into a mildly entertaining drinking game by swigging every time you see a dead Chinese extra (isolated body parts count too!). In addition, my vague confusion between cholera and yellow fever has been cleared up, and I developed a mild two-day fascination with wingtips and opium, so if you should find yourself interested in such things, go buy that ticket, but don't expect greatness. Expect cholera. Lots and lots of cholera. So much cholera that you will never ever want to drink Chinese river water in the 1920s ever again.

SEE ALSO: wip.warnerbros.com/paintedveil/

--
Susan Howson
A staff writer attending graduate school in Richmond, VA, Susan Howson cannot be persuaded to stop talking about movies.

See other articles by Susan Howson.

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