by Tony Medley
Wow! From the first
second, a man is jogging in the park and we’re following him, to the
final fadeout, this captured and held my interest. I was going to make a
phone call and leave for a few minutes, but couldn’t, so riveted was
The jogger we’re
following drops dead in an underpass in the park. Ten years later ten
year old Sean (Cameron Bright) sneaks into Eleanor’s (Lauren Bacall)
birthday party. He asks to speak with Eleanor’s daughter, Anna (Nicole
Kidman), who is engaged to Joseph (Danny Huston), privately. When he
gets her alone, he tells her he’s Sean, which was the name of the
jogger, who was Anna’s husband.
That might sound a
little hard to believe, but Director Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast, 2000)
brilliantly weaves this into a tale that’s so compelling I couldn’t
leave for an instant. How good it is was epitomized by one scene where
Anna is at a concert with Joseph. Glazer zeroes in on a head shot of
Anna and lingers there for at least two minutes. Normally a shot like
this would have me squirming and looking at my watch after around ten
seconds. But this one didn’t. I was mesmerized.
Some scenes have an
ambience that captures you. I’ll never be able to forget the scene in
Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent (1940) in which Joel McCrea
is investigating an old windmill. Hitchcock constructed the scene so
masterfully that the creaky windmill was as sinister as any character in
the movie. The scene captivates the viewer.
Glazer has achieved
the same effect but it continues throughout the entire movie. There’s
a mysterious, hypnotic quality to the atmosphere of the film that
grabbed me and wouldn’t let go.
Often actors are
rewarded for films that don’t deserve it and ignored for films that
do. While I didn’t think
Kidman deserved a Best Actress Oscar for her role as Virginia Woolf (a
role with so few lines that it shouldn’t have qualified for anything
more than Best Supporting Actress category) in The Hours (2002),
she was phenomenal in Malice (1993) with Alec Baldwin, a thriller
I thought enormously effective, but which came and went almost without a
ripple. Here, in Birth, she gives a remarkable performance. But
what makes the film work is young Cameron Bright who has to make us
believe that he really might be Anna’s Sean. The entire film depends on him
and he delivers in spades.
I saw this in a
theater with a regular audience, who laughed in inappropriate spots. It
seemed to me the laughter was caused by an immature inability to deal
with a difficult theme. It certainly wasn’t laughter at anything funny
happening on the screen. My advice; pick a theater in an area populated
by people of better than average intelligence and maturity who can deal
with incommodious themes without embarrassment.
Like Malice the
audience isn’t sure what’s going on, but it’s swept up in the
mystery. Glazer starts right out with the story with no titles. The
man is jogging; we’re on the voyage with him and no titles are
going to interrupt us. This is the craft of filmmaking at its zenith.
November 6, 2004