In order for Birth to succeed, it needs to convince the audience that its premise, that a dead man returns to his fiancee as a boy, is plausible. It does not do so. If anything, Birth is more liable to elicit giggles and laughter when people watch it, because all of the actors are taking themselves so seriously. This is a shame, because Nicole Kidman gives a very moving performance. Kidman (The Stepford Wives, The Human Stain) is Anna, a woman who lost her husband Sean a decade ago. It was a very emotional experience for her, and she thinks she has moved on. Now she is engaged to Joseph (Danny Huston, Silver City, 21 Grams), and everything is fine until a ten year old boy named Sean (Cameron Bright, Godsend, The Butterfly Effect) walks into a dinner and announces that he is Anna's Sean, and that she shouldn't marry Joseph.

Everybody laughs, because it is funny. But the more that Sean says, the less sure Anna becomes. Bright is the perfect kid to play Sean, because he looks so damn creepy. He has big eyes and a large, expansive blank face. He used it to great effect in Godsend, and does the same thing here. He seems to know an awful lot about Anna and her friends and family, more than what would seem plausible or even possible. What becomes frustrating is watching how the other characters interact with Sean in Milo Addica (Monster's Ball), Jean-Claude Carriere (Salsa, Ruy Blas), and director Jonathan Glazer's (Sexy Beast) screenplay. They ask some questions of Sean, but never the ones that can generate any answers. Sean will say things like "I know because I'm Sean," or other elliptical answers that don't really answer anything.

Birth is a strangely emotionally sterile film. It's an especially odd move for Glazer, whose last film, Sexy Beast, was such a fun trip. Long tracking shots, where the camera never wavers, seem to make the film feel longer. Aside from some bursts of emotion from Kidman and Huston, most of the acting in Birth is restrained. Everybody is holding back from letting out their true emotions. This only makes Kidman's emotional performance more out of place, and worse, funny. She needs to make everybody believe that Anna believes that Sean is her husband, but this fails to come across. For the duration of the film, it is clear that Kidman is acting.

There was a huge hoopla surrounding a tub scene with Bright and Kidman. Big deal. At least something happened in that scene. Most of the time, events move extremely slowly. Kidman caves in too quickly to Sean's weird pronouncements. Even after taking into account her emotionally fragile state, this seems odd. Her declarations to her family seem half-hearted, and Joseph's attempt later to beat up Sean are plain silly. There is a lot of wasted talent here, including Lauren Bacall (Dogville, The Limit), Anne Heche (John Q., Auggie Rose), and Peter Stormare (Bad Boys II, The Tuxedo). The concept was interesting, but the way it was realized was not.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Bad.
1 hour, 40 minutes, Rated R for sexuality.

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