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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

The Painted Veil (review)

The most electrifiying moments onscreen in this sturdy, stolid historical melodrama occur between real-life offscreen couple Naomi Watts and Liev Schreiber, onscreen as a pair of illicit English ex-pat lovers in 1920s China. They’re barely together, however, as it is their characters’ affair that launches the plot, prompting her bitter, jealous husband, a doctor (Edward Norton), to set off for a remote village in the grips of a cholera epidemic, and to blackmail his wife into accompanying him. Off they go, across beautiful landscapes as they wallow in their own estrangement and in the elegant repression of W. Somerset Maugham (the film is based on his novel of the same name), and discover each other for the first time while the little world they land in falls apart around them. Watts (King Kong) and Norton (The Illusionist) are extraordinary actors, and in fine form here, but they never click together, and so the passion they’re meant to be awakening in each other fails to ignite, no matter how much the film insists it does. We find ourselves wishing that Liev (The Omen) would swoop in, kick Edward’s ass, and spirit Naomi away back to Shanghai for some genuine down-and-dirty romance.

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MPAA: rated PG-13 for some mature sexual situations, partial nudity, disturbing images and brief drug content

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb
  • john

    interesting that most critics think it was norton & watts that had the chemistry but not watts & schreiber. YOU ARE THE ONLY ONE OF OVER 100 WHO HAS SAID OTHERWISE. she says she was very self-conscious about the love scene w/schreiber because she had never done a scene w/someone she had been intimate with & she thought people might think…is this the way they do it. on the other hand, she was very convincing w/laura harring (some thought watts must be a lesbian) & friends like sean, mark, & now edward. i guess they convinced you so well that you could not change course w/the rest of us. i think it was watts’s best perf–better than mulholland dr & 21g (but not ellie parker).

    charley was scum. kitty & walter grew–whether you allowed yourself to grow w/them or not. if isolation & cholera could not do it, what could?

  • MaryAnn

    I’m not sure why you’re shouting at me. Why do you expect that all critics are going to agree on every film?

  • candy

    For all that the movie endeavors to show us, it is incredible that all you consider is the chemistry between actors. Oy.

  • MaryAnn

    Who says that all I consider?

  • veil_fan

    I agree with the other critics. It was Norton and Watts who had the most palpable chemistry. The t sexual tension between these two was simply electric. The scenes where they’re suppose to hate each other crackled with intensity, and in the scenes where they display desire and affection were so moving. Watts and Schreiber, in comparison, were so flat in their scenes together.

  • Just finished watching the film, and now I’m determined to buy it! It was incredible! The photography, the drowsily erotic piano by Lang Lang, the superior acting, the location–everything was just breathtaking. And yes, for me at least, I felt the sexual tension between Norton and Watts, especially once they arrived in PaiMuTan–really, it was HOT. I also loved the way the modern movie kept Maugham’s early 20th cent. morality in place, which helped to make it a more believable adaptation of the book. The ending was better in the movie as well–and I say this as a BIG fan of Maugham. There was more of a feeling of redemption for both husband and wife. Liev was a pig, no doubt about it, and while there was heat there, it burnt out quickly. When she is told that Liev’s wife had made the comment that it seemed all the women who fell for her hubby were so “second-rate”, I think something just cracked irrevocably, and it was about time! It gave Naomi’s character a real sadness, a loneliness, and ignited something between her and her husband. 4 stars from me. No doubt!! And read the book if you can find it–excellent!!

  • mmc

    I see this blog. I am not sure. Why do you expect that all critics are going to agree on every film?

  • Grinebiter

    Interesting advance on ‘bottery there; the ‘bot plucks phrases from the blog, like Birnam Wood advancing on Dunsinane. The smartest I’ve seen. My own blog uses SpamKarma2, which employs a mix of criteria that I don’t actually understand, such as “fake Javascript”, plus one I do — a message posted so soon after load that it could not possibly have been typed in by a human.

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