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The Weight of Water

Starring Sean Penn, Elizabeth Hurley, Catherine McCormack
Screenplay by Alice Arlen and Christopher Kyle
Based on the novel by Anita Shreve
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow

IN SHORT: drowned by all too clever complexity. [Rated R for violence, sexuality/nudity and brief language. 105 minutes]

There's a great writing convention of having two stories run in parallel, ultimately connecting for a Big Finish. The Weight of Water divides its pair of stories with a chasm of 125 years and a set of sexual subplots that are as hidden as they are unrelated. As always, we don't compare to Source Material. That also means we believe that you shouldn't have to read the book to understand the movie. In this case, though, the finished product tells a story so muddled that, if you really are intrigued enough to want to understand the ending, you must read the book. In our case, press notes explained everything that was supposed to be happening in the story. That's not a good thing.

The most coherent of the pair of stories in The Weight of Water is one based upon a pair of real life murders which occurred on March 5, 1873 in an isolated cabin on the Isles of Shoals, off the coast of New Hampshire. A German immigrant named Louis Wagner (Ciarin Hinds) was accused and convicted of the double murder of Norwegian ladies Anetha (Vinessa Shaw) and Karen (Katrin Cartlidge). One is the sister of and the other sister-in-law of Maren Hontvedt (Sarah Polley), the sole surviving witness to the crimes. Rumors have persisted through the years that Maren lied and that Wagner was, indeed, innocent of the crimes for which he hanged. The Weight of Water presents a very clever idea for the who and why of the murders.

In modern times Jean Janes (Catherine McCormack) is assigned to do a magazine piece on those once upon a time murders. She and husband Thomas (Sean Penn), he a Pulitzer Prize winning poet, hitch a ride to the Isles with his brother Rich (Josh Lucas). Rich drops his own surprise upon the pair, in the luscious form of new girlfriend Adaline (Elizabeth Hurley). Adaline is flirtatious, far too friendly and still firm in all the right places, if you know what we mean. As well, Jean is dumbfounded to discover that this vixen and her loving hubbie are not exactly strangers to each other. There is supposed to be a heavy dose of hint-hint-hint about that last statement in the film. T'ain't there.

Adding to the tension is that this trip is much more than a research venture for Mr. and Mrs. Janes. Their marriage is on the rocks. This time away from familial responsibilities, supposed to settle some of their problems sees those problems aggravated by Adaline's presence. Two couples locked in the very small confines of a boat on the open sea -- you can guess some kind of nasty cat fight is on the horizon. You'd guess wrong. Though our Third Act rules won't let us spill what kind of confrontation and/or grand climax occurs, we will spill that the events of the modern day climax are supposed to make clear in Jean's mind the "true" solution to the murders in the parallel story. At least, that's what the notes tell us. The film fails in that respect, drowning all logic in a messy bit of editing at the end of the film.

The film tries to force some sort of parallel between stories that, at least as presented, have none. That's usually called putting style over substance. In this case it means one substantial story is deleted by one far less interesting.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Weight of Water, he would have paid . . .


As separate stories, the 19th century tale is as clear as a bell. Rent, if only for the far superior murder mystery that is the backbone of the film

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