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The Painted VeilThe Painted Veil on DVD

Naomi Watts stars with Edward Norton in this extremely slow but beautiful-looking film based on a novel by W. Somerset Maugham.

It's the 1920's and Kitty (Watts) is a party girl whose mother has washed her hands of her. To get away from her, Kitty marries Walter Fane (Norton), a medical researcher working in Shanghai. Kitty looks like a bit of a flirt, but as it turns out it's much worse than that and we soon see her in bed with local (Shanghai) British bureaucrat Charlie Townsend (Liev Schreiber). But she gets caught and the stoic Walter gives her a choice: be divorced virtually immediately or accompany him to the Chinese interior where he's about to take up duties as a medical doctor trying to fight a cholera epidemic.

She goes with him, for reasons that become obvious upon viewing the film, and they're thrust into a world of hopelessness, despair, culture shock – and brewing revolution. Things aren't made any easier by their chilly "relationship" that keeps Walter distant even as Kitty starts learning what's truly important in life. She sees Walter in action trying to save lives but, more than that, it's how others including the local Mother Superior (Diana Rigg, and isn't it great to see her again!) treat the man and his work that starts to clue her in.

Eventually, they reconcile somewhat, but is it too little, too late to save their life together?

Well, we aren't going to spoil it for you if you're into watching this film!

Watts, who we loved as Ann Darrow in Peter Jackson's masterpiece King Kong (and that was the first time we'd noticed her, we're ashamed to admit), is also very good here. She starts out as the self centered little slut and, as the movie unfolds ever so gradually, adds real depth to her character through its personal growth.

Norton, too, is very believable. His character is very restrained, unemotional for the most part, but solid and comfortable in his beliefs. Norton brings just the right touch to the role.

The Chinese locations are gorgeous, as is the overall look of the film. What isn't as gorgeous is the movie's ponderousness. It really does move at a snail's pace. Maybe we're just used to movies that offer more flash than substance (and there's substance here for sure, but is it really necessary to plod along?), but even insofar as a romance goes (which this could be called, or at least an "anti-romance") we prefer something a little more attention-getting. For example, Music and Lyrics, which we also reviewed recently, is predictable and schmaltzy, but far more enjoyable.

To each his own…

The DVD is of good quality, however. Warners has presented the film in anamorphic widescreen (16x9 TV compatible), and while the picture quality is a tad soft the colors are rich and the overall effect is quite lovely.

Audio is Dolby Digital 5.1 surround and it's also respectable.

Alas, Warners has now started inflicting trailers on the audience at the beginning of the disc. This isn't bad in itself; you can skip through them if you want, which is how it should be – but once you've done that you can't get back to them from the main menu if you want to watch them later. This seems pretty silly.

The Painted Veil, from Warner Home Entertainment
125 min. anamorphic widescreen (16x9 TV compatible), Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
Starring Naomi Watts, Edward Norton, Liev Schreiber, Diana Rigg,
Produced by Naomi Watts, Edward Norton
Written by Ron Nyswaner, directed by John Curran

Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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