The Painted Veil DVD: Review By Dodd

There are some very strong performances here from Edward Norton and Naomi Watts; two of the better-known up-and-coming actors today.
  • OVERALL
    3.0
    WORTHY
  • Feature
  • Extras
  • Replay Value
THE GOOD
There are some very strong performances here from Edward Norton and Naomi Watts; two of the better-known up-and-coming actors today.
THE BAD
There is zilch for special features.
THE FEATURE
If I were asked to list some of the more notable actors to come out of the last two decades, Edward Norton would definitely be close to the top of my list. In the 1990s, he made his celebrity debut as a dual-personality murder suspect in Primal Fear, and was given an Oscar nomination for his role. Since then, his career has taken off and he has played everything from a bigoted skinhead (American History X) to a tortured corporate slave (Fight Club) to a magician (The Illusionist). Norton has gone from a boyish character actor by placing himself in challenging and mature roles throughout the last ten years. The actor takes his capabilities to another new level in the recent romance film The Painted Veil.

The film headlines Norton alongside another actor who is proving herself to be just as talented, and that performer is Naomi Watts. Watts plays Kitty, a spoiled rich girl of the 1920s whose parents want nothing more than for a husband to come along and show her the passage to being a grownup. Their wish comes in the form of Dr. Walter Fane (Norton). Walter is a socially inept bacteria expert who maintains a rigid and serious demeanor. This is so much to the point that he can't loosen up enough to propose marriage to Kitty without sounding like a 7th grade schoolboy.

While not in love with Walter, she accepts his hand in marriage and moves to China where he is conducting research. It does not take her long to crawl into bed with Charlie Townsend (Liev Schreiber), a smooth-talking and handsome diplomat. Upon discovering her act of adultery, Walter forces Kitty to travel to an inland Chinese village with him where cholera has broken out. The rest of the film focuses on the married Walter and Kitty who essentially feel locked into matrimony when they realize they do not love one another. However, there is a love story under this front of loathing which focuses on that possibility of discovering a common ground in the darndest of places.

The Painted Veil is not one of the greatest films to come out of 2006, but it certainly reaches higher than most Hollywood fare tends to do. The storyline trudges along at a snail's pace and sometimes it is easy to lose focus on the situation at hand. As this is a love story, there is the ever-present predictability that these two lovers who antagonize one another will end up in one another's arms in the style of traditional cinema. The basic concept is the weakest link in this chain.

What do manage to succeed are the portrayals of these characters by Norton and Watts. There is a sense of nostalgia while watching this film, not just because it takes place in 1925, but because it evokes the performance styles of early sound cinema. Norton and Watts do not do things subtly as a married couple, but are melodramatic in every scuffle and loving embrace they share onscreen together. Typically this style of acting would be laughable because some performers see it as a spoof or imitation of 1950s melodrama. There is something about the chemistry between the stars here that truly sizzles. It is as if Norton and Watts were in the same frame of mind as actors from the old days. There are times today when melodrama works and does not work. When we see Walter Fane go from awkward to more masculine and in touch with his wifes emotions, the audience can see the longing in their eyes, and can feel it just as well.

Another aspect worth mentioning is the direction from John Curran. The filmmaker is obviously out to make a sweeping epic, and indeed it is. Despite the cholera-infested depression evident in the script, China always manages to look like a beautiful place. Everything from the river valleys to the fields to the muddy villages are quite aesthetically pleasing, and it is clear that the filmmakers really have an eye for accurately capturing location and time periods.
THE EXTRAS
Despite the film's impressive points, there is nothing to offer in the special features department with the exception of a measly trailer.
THE VIDEO
Widescreen. As previously noted, this film is very easy on the eyes. Even if the storyline falters at times, it is always pleasing to the human eye. However, while this is noticeable on DVD, the film is clearly intended to be seen in theaters, which is in the spirit of classical epics.
THE AUDIO
5.1 Dolby Surround. The sound quality is rather sufficient here and does not hit dips of quiet dialogue and booming music. Everything is balanced just right.
THE PACKAGE
Standard DVD keep case. The cover is in a pale tint with Norton and Watts taking up the top half in a light embrace that expresses their distance from one another as lovers. The bottom half of the cover is a landscape shot of a Chinese village.
THE FINAL WORD
The Painted Veil is one of those films that didn't receive the most praise upon its theatrical release. After seeing it on DVD, I can see its potential as a film that definitely hits notes above the average mark. Due to the lack of special features and the film not reaching my highest standards, I give this a huge recommendation as a rental.

Questions? Comments? Just want to talk movies? Drop me a line at dodd@movieweb.com

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