Boiling Over

Well-wrought drama of troubled marriages builds to a violent storm.


directed by Kathryn Bigelow

opens Nov. 15 at Uptown

ONE HUNDRED THIRTY years have passed and a woman still can't get out of a bad marriage? Divorce never seems to cross the mind of photojournalist Jean (Catherine McCormack), who's unhappily married to a philandering Pulitzer Prize- winning poet (Sean Penn). He, of course, is suffering from writer's block, and responds by smoking incessantly, quoting Dylan Thomas, and ogling his brother's girlfriend (a deliciously tarty Elizabeth Hurley). With his hunky brother (Josh Lucas) as skipper, the four sail to the New Hampshire island where a double murder was committed in 1873. Jean's on assignment to take photos of the crime scene, yet the self-appointed sleuth intuits that the man hung for the killings was innocent. Instead, Jean suspects that Maren (Sarah Polley), the sole witness who fingered the executed man, was the real murderer.

The Weight of Water links these two women, alternating between their stories of parallel discontent. Maren lives like a prisoner on a desolate rock facing the ocean. Her world is one of dour Norwegian repression, and she harbors secrets that this rather Gothic whodunit gradually reveals. She grimly suffers her husband's sexual exertions (they're childless) and reserves her affection for a little dog.

Meanwhile, Jean and her shipmates drink, flirt, and bicker with blithely modern self-assurance. Jean stares daggers at Hurley's vampy author-fucker hussy, who sunbathes topless on the boat and spends much of the movie sucking suggestively on ice cubes and crab legs. Penn gazes manfully into the sunset as only a poet can do. Infidelity is in the salt air.

Water suggests how, in either century, guys can pretty much do as they please, while women are left to stew and brood—forever insecure about losing the men they love. For Jean, delving into Maren's life has a kind of mummy's curse effect; lifting the lid off repression can be fatal. The pent-up tensions in both eras build to a climactic storm scene where Jean's boat is threatened and the two stories converge.

A movie essentially about the inner lives of women, Water externalizes those tempests thanks to the sure cinematic hand of Kathryn Bigelow (whose far less-successful K-19: The Widowmaker was an all-male affair). Time-lapse skies help link the two tales; different film stocks illustrate conflicting accounts of the murders. This is Bigelow's most accomplished work to date—if still murky and overdetermined. I'm not saying she should stick to quote-unquote women's pictures, but better movies would probably result if she did.

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