The Weight of Water

The Weight of Water and the recent film Possession have some things in common. Both are based on novels (this one based on the one by Anita Shreve). Both have dual stories, one in the past and one in the present, with the latter investigating the former. And both use similar themes in the past and present to connect the threads. The difference is that there was a lot more substance to Possession than The Weight of Water. It is an overly ambitious work that nearly crumbles under its own weight. In the present, photographer Jean Janes (Catherine McCormack, Spy Game, The Tailor of Panama) is heading off on a mini vacation to a remote island to investigate the murder of two women in the early 1870s. She is bringing her husband, Pulitzer Prize winning poet Thomas (Sean Penn, I Am Sam, Dogtown and Z-Boys), brother-in-law Rich (Josh Lucas, Sweet Home Alabama, A Beautiful Mind), and Rich's girlfriend Adaline (Elizabeth Hurley, Serving Sara, Bedazzled).

Problems emerge immediately. Jean and Thomas are having marital issues, and having a beautiful woman like Adaline prancing around in next to nothing is not helping. Worse, Adaline and Thomas already know each other and she is a big fan of his work. Thomas is distant, and doesn't seem to care about what Jean is doing. Director Kathryn Bigelow (K-19: The Widowmaker, Strange Days) liberally uses the metaphor of drowning to illustrate Jean's predicament. She feels trapped, like she is drowning, and nobody can save her. Which may be why she is so interested in Maren Hontvedt (Sarah Polley, No Such Thing, The Claim). Maren's testimony convicted Louis Wagner (Ciarin Hinds, The Road to Perdition, The Sum of All Fears), a German boarder. Wagner lived with Maren, her husband John (Ulrich Thomsen, Mostly Martha, The World is Not Enough), Maren's sister Karen (Katrin Cartlidge, From Hell, No Man's Land), brother Evan (Anders W. Berthelsen, Italian for Beginners, Mifune), and Evan's wife Anethe (Vinessa Shaw, Corky Romano, 40 Days and 40 Nights). Whew! The cast is immense, but Bigelow and adapters Alice Arlen (Cookie, Alamo Bay) and Christopher Kyle (K-19: The Widowmaker) do their best to ensure everybody has something to do.

Jean believes that something doesn't make sense with the murder. She thinks that Wagner may be innocent or murdering Karen and Anethe, and keeps going back to the Hontvedt house to look for more. She believes that everything somehow revolves around Maren. Unknown to her, Maren and Jean are in similar situations. She and John lived a solitary life on an island, not exactly happy but content. During the day, John fishes leaving Maren at home by herself. As time passes, Karen, then Evan and Anethe join them. Like Jean, Maren feels suffocated. There is a tension between Maren and Evan, unrevealed until the very end of the movie. As Jean investigates the murders, Bigelow transitions back to the past to show what really happened.

The transitions are somewhat awkward, and it feels more like the film is stretching to cleanly move from the present to the past and back to the present. There also seem to be too many characters. Jean and Maren have real reason to feel cluttered. It's kind of a shame too, since it just means less screen time. With the exception of Hurley (well, she's good here because all she needs to do is bare cleavage and act sexy), this is a formidable set of actors. Lucas doesn't have much to do, and the late Cartlidge only has one reason to even be in the film. McCormack and Polley are the emotional anchors for the film. The present is less interesting because what is going on is so subdued. Everything seethes beneath the surface, and Jean and Thomas refuse to open up to each other. The past is a little more melodramatic. Secrets do emerge, and once they do, The Weight of Water begins to sink rapidly. It's always a good thing when filmmakers are able to get the viewer to feel what the characters on screen are feeling. It's not that good when the feeling is frustration.

Mongoose Rates It: Okay.
1 hour, 53 minutes, Rated R for violence, sexuality/nudity, and brief language.

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