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by Willie Waffle

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The Painted Veil

I am embarrassed to admit this, but it proves my point about the movie.  During The Painted Veil, I fell asleep for about a minute.  It’s horribly unprofessional (and quite frightening to discover you are the one who is snoring), but also shows you how boring the movie can be, even when you are getting paid to be attentive.          

Naomi Watts stars as Kitty – a 1920’s party girl who has driven her rich family to the brink of financially cutting her off unless she gets her act together (if only the Hilton family would do the same).  To get away from them, Kitty decides to marry Walter (Edward Norton) – a bacteriologist who studies germs and diseases (I hope he washes his hands thoroughly before coming home).  While she is outgoing and always the belle of the ball, he is shy and awkward, but deeply in love with her in ways that she is not in love with him. 

Along the way, Kitty has engaged in a heated affair with the society circuit’s most charming (but married) man, Charlie Townsend (Liev Schreiber), who seems to have everything Kitty finds attractive in the opposite sex, everything that is lacking in Walter.  However, when her husband finds out, he signs up to travel to the most remote and desolate part of China to study and hopefully stop a cholera outbreak.  Why?  To bring Kitty and punish her for her dalliance (DAMN! That’s cold, but something to keep in mind of you ever catch your significant other doing the horizontal mambo with someone else).

Will Kitty be able to withstand the journey?  What does Walter have planned for her thousands of miles away from the world they know? 

The Painted Veil is a bland movie desperately seeking some excitement, and one oddly structured in reverse.  Writer Ron Nyswaner (based on the novel by W. Somerset Maugham) has the “break up” and scandal happen early on, then uses the rest of the movie to show us the relationship between Walter and Kitty, how they appear to be growing together, and the final resolution to their marriage (Watts admitted this part of the story on a late night program, so don’t blame me for giving anything away). Admittedly, it’s nice to see something different, but one is left to wonder how Walter, who seems so outraged by the entire affair, would be willing to forgive Kitty so easily, especially with so much intimation early on that he is going to do something fairly horrible to her. 

I guess it’s supposed to be a love story as she learns to appreciate the man who isn’t as flashy and charming, but reliable and goodhearted as they face great difficulty, but the movie needs more, even if we are supposed to feel Kitty has changed.  Director John Curran fills The Painted Veil with all of these long musical montages that don’t advance the story, only briefly touch upon the unrest in China and the coming revolution, and are more for showing how he and cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh can capture the landscape (I guess they were going for that Best Cinematography Oscar).  With the biggest, most shocking moments happening early on, we need something to drive the story. 

All of this leaves Norton and Watts trying to make love out of nothing at all, and they do what they can.  Norton is almost perfect as the cuckolded hubby, and brings on the rage and English accent exactly the way an actor should, which further proves how awesome he is at his craft, even in a sub-standard film.  Watts is fantastic as the cheating wife, yet, still finds a way to redeem Kitty to make the ending work better than you might expect.  Finally, Toby Jones will shock you as Walter and Kitty’s pal as he brings a cool creepy vibe as well as being their confidante.    

The Painted Veil is like one of those typical Oscar bait type of films that haven’t been Oscar bait in about 10 years. 

1 ½ Waffles (Out Of 4)

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