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Volume 5, Issue 1                                    University of Houston

'Weight' excels despite heavy story

By Geronimo Rodriguez
Breaking News

With The Weight of Water, Kathryn Bigelow excels in comparing a sexually repressed woman's rage to that of a jailed homophobe who's just been force-fed a bottle of Viagra. The problem for Bigelow isn't the complex plot, but it's the thought of the film being too ambitious by Hollywood's standards.

When filmmakers get jumpy and carve out a heavy, layered movie, Hollywood and its pampered critics -- the ones who prostitute their four-star reviews and catchy one-liners around town -- scratch their heads and unanimously dismiss the film and its creator. After swimming through a sea of heavy symbolism and frustrated characters, Bigelow's Weight of Water might be the latest film to be anchored down by critics and audiences' hunger for popcorn films.


In the dramatic The Weight of Water, Sean Penn convincingly plays the role of Thomas, an award-winning writer who can't keep his eyes off his brother's prize.
Chris Reardon/Lions Gate Films

The drama is by far Bigelow's finest, most daring film. But Bigelow just might return to making movies like her last stinker, K-19: The Widowmaker, as soon as she realizes how unrewarding it is to get ambitious on the silver screen. If the director, whose works include a string of somewhat successful films (Strange Days, Point Break and Blue Steel), opted to stay in shallow water with Weight, audiences would have been treated to a film similar to the poorly delivered The Shipping News.

Instead, Bigelow accompanies the mystique of the past with today's pleasures, and while the film begins by begging for its audience's attention, it ends with viewers still holding on to their lifesavers, wondering if the climax has settled. It's hard to blame them, considering that the film takes the scenic route, paralleling an unsolved 1800s double-murder with a contemporary couple's messy relationship to reflect the dynamics of love -- or was it lust? Maybe it was just women being women.

The film begins in 1873 with a man being imprisoned for the murder of two Norwegian immigrants. The prosecutor's main witness is a cabin-bound, hardworking newlywed, Maren, played superbly by Sarah Polley. Bigelow then shifts to today, focusing on a sexually repressed photographer, Jean (Catherine McCormack), and her Pulitzer-winning husband, Thomas (Sean Penn), who has his eyes either on his next drink or a woman other than his wife.

Along with Thomas' brother, Rich (Josh Lucas), and his girlfriend, Adaline (Elizabeth Hurley), they go on a boat ride to take pictures of the century-old murder site for an article. Without giving too much away, which may not be possible for this film, this synopsis is all the film needs to take off on women's sexual desires and, in this case, their refusal to acknowledge their similarities with men.

It begins and ends with Jean; she clearly gets warm all over when she's around her brother-in-law, but she goes into glaring fits when Rich's girlfriend rubs ice cubes over her bare chest for Thomas to get the hint that she wants him. What gives? If Jean would have let her troubled husband swing with Hurley's perky character, she and Rich could have taken the other bunk. Then the boat would've been rocking, and her nerves would have been settled.

But in the film, women can't be pleased -- unless someone dies. This is when all the rage enters the frame, and poor Thomas has to take cold showers and the bra-less Adaline, poor thing, uses her hands to keep her chest covered.

When both plots are amplified in the end, the gist of the film is this: If women aren't happy, no one is happy.

Even Penn, brilliant actor that he is, can't overshadow the film's ultimate purpose. Perhaps Penn, who merely filled the role the way it was written -- which is still a pleasure to watch -- was asked to play the relatively small part and let the women carry the film. The movie is filled with such cases left open for argument, but, either way, it works out well.

As for the rest of the cast, take out Hurley's bare-breasted, sunbathing scene and Polley offers the most memorable effort.

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