The Weight of Water (2002) Lions Gate
1 hr. 53 mins.
Starring: Sean Penn, Sarah Polley, Elizabeth Hurley, Catherine McCormack, Josh Lucas, Claran Hinds, Ulrich Thomsen, Vinessa Shaw, Katrin Cartlidge
Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow

The Weight of Water



Photo: Lions Gate

The Weight of Water is certainly one of those well-meaning yet pretentiously extravagant sensual sagas that basks in its moody atmosphere of repressed love and personal redemption. Director Kathryn Bigelow has a sense of glossy style in the way she helms her provocative but relentlessly staid and plodding psychosexual drama. This sordid tale surrounding the unsolved crime of two immigrant women murdered in late nineteenth century New Hampshire is based upon Anita Shreve’s animated novel. Although the movie’s screenplay by Alice Arlen and Christopher Kyle tries furiously to instill some off kilter tension into this soft porn piffle of a narrative, The Weight of Water trudges along with its strained showcase of ludicrous pandering which features everything from choppy contemporary/retro storytelling gimmicks to the labored platitudes of the hot-and-bothered transparent characterizations. Bigelow offers some flashy twists and turns that occasionally fortify this turgid fable. But for the most part, The Weight of Water comes off as a two-way time-switching myopic mystery that stalls in its lackluster gear of emotional blandness.

A Pulitzer Prize-winning poet with a taste for booze named Thomas Janes (Sean Penn) is stuck in an uneventful marriage with his researcher/journalist wife Jean (Catherine McCormack). They arrange to take a boating trip to New Hampshire’s Isle of Shoals in an effort to follow up on the puzzling 1873 murder case where Jean is to take some photo-essay shots at the notorious location. The legend behind the 130-year old murder case involved two Norwegian women (Sarah Polley and Claran Hinds) in an entanglement involving the homicide pertaining to one of the opinionated individual’s sister and sister-in-law (Katrin Cartlidge and Vinessa Shaw). When heated accusations were randomly tossed back and forth, suddenly the bickering combatants met their own death courtesy of a gruesome hacking.

Accompanying the married tandem on this “journey of discovery” is Thomas’s brother Rich (Josh Lucas) and his ultra-sexy sleek girlfriend Adaline (Elizabeth Hurley). And of course as the boating expedition continues, things become rather enticing. There are a flurry of temptations being bandied about; Jean’s quest for the truth behind her assigned professional pursuits, Adaline’s tawdry behavior as a means to titillate the frustrated and hormonal Thomas, the overall jealousy factor that is suppose to enhance the eventual mate-swapping ritual as some sensationalistic session of misguided angst-ridden passion, etc. All this hot-blooded activity is played against the landscape of a lingering nostalgic whodunnit caper that awkwardly balances the naughty present day proclivities of these four wayward soul-searching protagonists with the raucous goings-on of yesteryear’s unsolved state of deadly affairs.

The Weight of Water plays as an over-indulgent celluloid soap tinkering in the arena of infidelity and other vacuous moralistic intrigue. As a filmmaker, Bigelow takes some liberties in trying to steer her ship of fools in an intended chaotic direction meant to give credence to the busy storyline’s intertwined sauciness of mayhem and mischievousness between the present and the past. But she fails to convincingly level off her two separate plots so that they simultaneously provide a gripping tone to support the desired ribaldry taken place in the exchanging scenarios. There’s an inexplicable recklessness that turns Bigelow’s staggering and bloated pseudo-salacious sideshow into an incomplete and exhaustive dud. The result is nothing more than a flat and sprawling exposition about flavorless personalities and their unthinkable need to engage in meaningless foreplay at sea in a cloud of disillusionment and despair.

Despite the film’s boasting of a capable cast of performers, they do very little to elevate this gauzy and shoddy suspense piece beyond its tepid and sullen material. The poetic waves in The Weight of Water nary register anything that can be construed as involving, perversely compelling, or sardonically lurid. Much like Neil LaBute’s ambitious but half-hearted time period drama Possession from this past summer, Water never really overcomes its unevenness in the telling of two different accounts about fascinating literary folks whom we never get to invest much interest in due to the lopsided effectiveness of the undemanding and dueling ineffectual sideline stories.

Click here to comment on this review or post your own thoughts.

Frank Ochieng


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