The Painted Veil (2006)


Women just never give the man the lovin’ they deserve. Tsk tsk.

Rich, spoiled, and bored English gal Kitty (Naomi Watts) thinks she’s met the man that will sweep her off of her feet, or at least, sweep her away from her mother, in the form of Dr. Walter Fane (Edward Norton). The two are clearly opposites and don’t seem to have much in common with one another, except for the fact that they want to be married and get away from their past lives. However, Kitty soon starts to get bored of Walter, and finds herself gravitating more towards his confidante, Dr. Charlie Townsend (Liev Schreiber), in which the two participate in a sordid affair of sorts. Walter isn’t dumb though and knows what’s going on when he isn’t around, so he makes Kitty a deal: Come with him to a cholera-infested village in China, or, get a divorce from him and see if her lover will want to get married too. Seeing as how Charlie doesn’t want to leave his own wife, Kitty has no other choice but to go with Walter where they both taste the dirt and do what they can to make time past, and maybe, just possibly even fall in love with one another. You know, like they originally thought that they did. But this time, for real.

What’s interesting about this movie, isn’t by the way it looks or sounds, it’s more about what it is. In one way, it’s a love story about a married-couple, but at the same time, it’s not a love story about a married-couple. These two may be married, but they sure as hell don’t love one another, and it was intriguing to see that play out, in a period-piece during the 20’s no less.

"Girl? Whatchu say?"
“Girl? Whatchu say?”

However, as interesting as that may have been, it didn’t really do wonders for me while I was watching it. See, even though I’m a young lad that’s chock full of hormones and energy, I truly don’t mind a slow-burner; in fact, sometimes, I more than welcome it. There’s nothing better to me than a movie in which all of the cards are laid-out on the table, shown to me in a comprehensible way, and made so that I can get a hold of everything I’m being told and just exactly what it is that I’m seeing. That’s usually what works so well about slow movies such as these, however, in order to make them fully work, there has to be something deep, hard, and meaningful burning deep down inside, and I just could not find that here.

Well, for the most part, I could at least decipher everything that was going on here, because not everything’s subtle. These two not-so lovebirds make it very clear to one another on many occasions that they do not love the other, and I have to say, everytime that happened, I couldn’t help but laugh. It’s played with the utmost sincerity, as if we’re supposed to be utterly shocked by these two characters not only fighting, but wanting nothing to do with the other. Also not to mention, the fact that it’s hard to feel any sympathy for either of these characters.

First of all, this Walter Crane guy is a bit of a geek – that’s pretty evident early on. Not only is he practicing in the medical-field, but he lets Kitty know, early on, that he’s a “bit clumsy”. Yeah, we get that. So, when they share one day together of doing Lord only knows what, he professes to her that he loves her, wants to get married, and needs an answer ASAP. Personally, I feel like maybe one or two dates is a bit too soon, but I guess if you feel it, then you feel it, and in the case of Walter Crane, it was instantly.

I guess I was supposed to feel sympathy for this nerdy guy because it’s clear that he doesn’t have a way with women (despite looking like Edward Norton whose dated gals like her and her) and maybe doesn’t have the best track-record, but it’s hard to care for him when he finds out that maybe he isn’t her type and then forces her to come on this life-changing trip of his. It’s clear he’s upset and confused, but still, come on, man, who was the one that practically threw it on her to get married. He even says at one point, “I knew why you married me in the first place”, or something along those lines. Then what the fuck!

It’s as if you brought a grizzly bear into your home and gave it honey. Then, moments later, you find out it still wants to claw the shit out of you, chomp your head off, and you still being like, “But hey! I brought you into my house and fed you!” Most bears are just wired that way, they can’t be fixed or helped in any way to think differently, so for you to bring it into your home, with your resources, and treat it your certain and expect the same in return, is just a bit dumb; bears are just wired differently. Maybe that’s a dumb metaphor, but I think its slightly understandable: It’s hard to feel bad for someone who gets a bunch of problems brought onto them, when anybody could have seen it coming from a mile away.

Now that I’m done with Crane, it’s time for Ms. Kitty who, despite being the cheater of the two, I actually felt a little bit more sympathy towards, if only because she didn’t try to be anything that she wasn’t. Sure, she was a total brat that only wanted to get out of her boring house and her annoying mom, but at least when her and Walt have their arguments, she doesn’t try to hide the fact that she was somebody else he didn’t already know about. Yes, I get that she is the one who decided to take the sanctity of marriage and shove it right down the sinkhole, but at least she wasn’t imposing upon anybody that she was anything else. If she was my wife, I’d be pretty pissed too, but that’s only because my wife would be somebody I know I’d feel safe and comfortable with loving and marrying; unlike how this Walter guy was with his wifey-poo.

God, what an idiot.

"Ah. Love that smell of cholera in the morning."
“Ah. Love that smell of cholera in the morning.”

Anyway, while neither character really put me in their sympathy-corners, I must say, the performances from Norton and Watts are, as expected, pretty good. Norton, despite his character being such a dunce, actually gives this Walt guy a real compassionate heart which, for what it’s worth, makes him seem like a genuinely nice guy who actually goes out of his own way to save these people all dying of cholera. He doesn’t have to, but he chooses to, and you can feel his compassion through Norton’s performance; it’s just such a shame that he wasn’t as compassionate or as smart when it came to choosing his women.

As for Naomi Watts, she gets to do a lot of pouting and staring, but she does very well with it. Though she’s the one character we’re supposed to clearly not like the most out of the two, Watts still makes us believe that there is some room for change in her personality and when that does happen, it seems understandable and barely ever tacked-on. It may be a bit corny in the way that it is presented to us, but that’s not any of Watts’ fault. Hell, it hardly ever is in her case.

Together, the two fix themselves together a nice chemistry that makes you feel like they truly do detest the absolute guts out of the other when they’re fighting; falling head-over-heels for one another when they are, well, you get it; and just happy to be in each other’s company. The movie never really throws any of this on us – it’s more about what these performers can do with the characters and material given to them, and you can hardly ever ask for a better pair than Edward Norton and Naomi Watts. All their character’s problems aside, they do what they can and most of the time, it’s good. Not great, but good enough to be seen.

Consensus: Though the Painted Veil includes the hard task of making its audience like, sympathize and understand its two relatively unlikable characters, it mostly gets by because Norton and Watts are so good at doing what it is they do: Act.

5.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Shit. Did you remember to lock the side-door?"
Shit. Did you remember to lock the side-door?”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB

7 comments

  1. Funny story – it took me about six months to watch the whole film because I kept getting distracted. Definitely a well-acted, beautiful movie but not one I can say I thoroughly loved. Great review!

  2. Heh I don’t think movie’s for me really, plus I’ve never been a huge fan of either Norton or Watts, though I concede they’re good actors… Nice review though!

  3. I really liked the score in this movie, I thought it was lovely. I remember being kind of amused at how matter of factly Walter told Kitty “Don’t do this or I’ll strangle you.” at one point. Definitely a rental, great review!

  4. I loved this film. Watts and Norton and Toby Jones are wonderful. As a period piece it works well with me–the tension between the Chinese military, the dying/riotous peasants, the Catholic nunnery and their orphan work force, and the solving of the problem of choleric water and the transformation of an injured couple and their ultimate forgiveness–you say slow burner, I say luxurious plot. And the countryside! How beautiful. Good review, Dan.

  5. So…the premise looks interesting at least! That is something new and fresh! It does not sound extremely entertaining so I may just have to give it a pass! Damn, great actors are in it too!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s