The Weight of Water

Director: Kathryn Bigelow

“Love is never as ferocious as when you think it’s going to leave you,” Sean Penn’s gloomily pompous poet Thomas shares with the three other people occupying a boat in Point Break director Kathryn Bigelow’s filmed version of Anita Shreve’s novel The Weight of Water. Going forwards and backwards in time, rocking back and forth like one of the ocean’s waves, we are privy to the inner turmoil and emotional conflict of couples at a crossroads in their relationships. Photojournalist Jean (Catherine McCormack) accepts an assignment to snap a few pictures that take in the scene of a brutal double murder that occurred on March 6, 1873 in the Isles of Shoals over a hundred years after the crime took place. Oddly choosing the assignment as a type of marital vacation, Jean brings husband Thomas along as they hitch a ride on his brother-in-law Rich’s boat to make the trek to the sea village. As distant and pretentious as the self-involved Thomas is, his brother Rich (Sweet Home Alabama’s Josh Lucas) is as welcoming, golden and friendly and one instantly feels that perhaps Jean married the wrong brother due to the tangible chemistry the two share once she boards the boat. However, she (like the audience) is surprised to find Rich’s bombshell poet groupie girlfriend Adaline (Elizabeth Hurley used mostly as window dressing) aboard. Adaline, fond of nude sunbathing and suggestively using ice cubes as seductive props to cool off, latches on to Thomas whom she’d met at a writer’s event earlier right away and the invasion of space the couples have in close quarters is evidenced within the first few awkward moments.

In addition to the quartet of contemporary professionals, we are introduced to Norwegian immigrant Maren Hontvedt (Sarah Polley) and her husband who come to America seeking a better life only to find danger when Maren is the sole survivor and witness of the slaying of two women at her residence. Based on an actual double murder that occurred on the island, Shreve’s novel plays up the highly debated outcome that involved a man who up until his execution swore he was innocent and as modern Jean begins obsessively researching the case, we begin to have serious doubts that justice was in fact served within the film’s first half hour. The first predictions we make initially seem to be red herrings but as the film goes on, we realize that we will be surprised at very little and the film’s overly long and tedious unfolding of events grows tiresome. Rather than using the murders as a backdrop for the unraveling of a marriage and the exploration of disagreeable Thomas who smugly tells his disagreeing brother that “talent excuses cruelty,” Bigelow (an accomplished painter turned successful action director) should have built up suspense from the get-go. In doing so, she along with her writers Alice Arlen (Silkwood) and Christopher Kyle (Alexander) would have constructed more of a mystery story that would lead us down the complications of the characters and case similar to the way that David Fincher’s Zodiac did in making us feel like we were in on the investigation. As Leonard Maltin wrote “the story’s ultimate revelations don’t bring any understanding of the contemporary characters or their problems,” and indeed the same goes for the uninvolving characters in the film’s extensive flashbacks.