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Birth  (2004)

 

Rating: R

Distributor: New Line Home Entertainment

Release Date: April 19, 2005
Review posted: April 20, 2005

 

Reviewed by Doug Alpern

 

SYNOPSIS

 

Just when a young couple joyously announce their engagement after a long courtship, an unknown boy enters their lives uninvited, and represents himself as the reincarnation of the bride-to-be’s first husband who died ten years prior. The couple and their families struggle with the possibilities of the reappearance of a loved-one’s soul, and the ramifications’ effects on each of them threaten to blow their close-knit unit apart.

 

CRITIQUE

 

This film poses many existential questions, and it seems to hedge on the majority of them. Though not necessarily a bad thing, the dilemmas presented seem to run out of steam long before you care. The movie fades in with the vocalized thoughts of Sean, husband of Alice (Nicole Kidman), on his ridicule of the whole reincarnation issue.  He continues talking over an image of him jogging in a snow-covered park, and then he collapses, presumably of a heart attack. Cut to ten years later. After a coming out party where Joseph (Danny Huston), Alice’s new beau, toasts to their impending nuptials, the immediate family including Alice’s mother (Lauren Bacall) retreats to the couple’s tony apartment. Suddenly a young boy (Cameron Bright) nonchalantly interrupts their intimate gathering, and takes Alice aside to announce that he is Sean, and that she should not marry Joseph. From this point on meanders a brooding, drawn-out story of non-suspenseful mystery. Could he be? Should she? Could she? Do we (care)?

 

Nicole Kidman has clearly established herself as an acting force in drama (The Hours, Eyes Wide Shut), comedy (To Die For), and musical (Moulin Rouge), and she gives another finely-nuanced turn here as a mate in two completely separate relationships, grappling with the possibility of reincarnation and struggling with her incredulity and emotionality. Her short hair and the film’s claustrophobic atmosphere beg comparison to Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby, a clearly different and better film. A scene in which Alice is witnessing a live performance and the camera focuses on her face full-frame for what seems an impossible amount of time is a stunning example of her immense capacity for displaying a range of thought and emotion with barely a bodily twitch.

 

Danny Huston (director John Huston’s son) does fine in a measured performance as Alice’s fiancé facing a growing intrusive threat, and Lauren Bacall ads an authoritative yet loving presence. One of my many problems with this film is Cameron Bright’s casting as young Sean. It’s a one-note performance with a creepy demeanor that never changes, requiring no emotional involvement from the audience.

 

One of the script’s problems is that the tone of Alice’s prior marriage is never established, so her reaction is always called into question. Signs of a happy marriage, love lost, or forlorn mourning are nowhere to be found, so her actions are not entirely believable or sympathetic. The film’s original tagline, “Be careful what you wish for,” implies an active longing that is never even hinted. Though a few plot explanations are suggested along the way, none of them are entirely plausible. The culturally unconscionable act of underage illicit behavior, seemingly restricted in the news these days to the teacher/student relationship, is delicately handled though, and ought not cause any offense.

 

Director and co-writer Jonathan Glazer’s previous film, Sexy Beast, was an intriguing and finely paced debut. Birth, his follow-up, avoids the usual supernatural clichés and leaves much for the audience to ponder but, in the process, cultivates little interest in the thin plot’s eventual nebulous outcome.

 

THE VIDEO

 

Birth has been transferred to DVD in its theatrical 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The color palette of this film is purposefully drab and muted and the transfer appears to retain the film’s mood. I did however notice sporadic granular artifacts, most evident in darkly lit close-ups.

 

THE AUDIO

 

The Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Surround tracks should be barely indistinguishable from each other, since no rear activity was audible. The .1 Sub track however, received a decent workout from Alexandre Desplat’s score that, while providing thrilling guidance at times and is seemingly misplaced at others, is always haunting. English and Spanish subtitles are also available.

 

THE EXTRAS

 

What extras? This DVD is devoid – I missed the director’s explanation of his vision, why certain plot elements were included, and what may have been left out. The theatrical trailer is available, as are other New Line previews, but I’ll never know what the DVD-ROM component has to offer, since Macintosh users are again left out in the cold.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

 

I wouldn’t rush out to purchase this DVD. I was anxious to see it in the theater but let it get by, and watching it at home was a disappointment. The disk’s lack of extras is also aggravating. It might be a worthwhile rental for fans of Nicole Kidman, but otherwise there are way to many worthwhile films to spend your money and time on.

 

VERDICT: SKIP IT

 

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:: The DVD

 

:: DVD Ratings

 

THE MOVIE

2

THE VIDEO

5

THE AUDIO

6

THE EXTRAS

1

OVERALL

3

 

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