323 – The Painted Veil

In this period piece, Edward Norton once again plays the smartest guy in the room, as Walter Fane, a dedicated, cold-hearted clinical researcher who travels to the middle of a cholera epidemic in China in the 1920s, with his young wife Kitty (Naomi Watts) in tow. Walter drags Kitty to China partly to punish her for her illicit tryst with a married man (Liev Schrieber). Kitty agrees because facing cholera is somehow better than being divorced and disgraced by Walter.

Now, I like Edward Norton. But having too recently seen him in The Illusionist, I was a little wary of his work here; Walter is not presented as someone who can be fooled, least of not by someone as apparently dumb as Kitty, and sure enough he’s discovered her infidelity. Of course, looking at Walter, one can understand Kitty’s indiscretion; she’s outgoing and adventursome, whereas Walter is dull and lifeless. He snags her after a truly whirlwind courtship and whisks her away from England to foreign lands; she agrees for the adventure and to get away from her sanctimonious, image-conscious mother.

In China, Walter finds that his abilities as a scientist aren’t the cure-all elixir the area needs. As the epidemic spreads, Walter necessarily cuts off the town’s tainted water supply, thus provoking wrath against all Westerners. Meanwhile, Kitty bores of sitting around the house and helps a local orphanage. But can they both keep the cholera at arm’s length? Can their shared experiences save their marriage?

This is, at its heart, a love story, although perhaps not the most exciting one. I can’t honestly say that anything in this movie really bothered me, but neither did it particularly enflame any passions for me. This is not a movie that most guys are going to like. Sure, Naomi Watts is good to look at, and she’s a competent actress, but here she seems like just another pretty face. The story’s focus is on her, but unless you’re in just the right mood you probably won’t be grabbed by it.

Those of you who love romances, though, might swoon. The bored wife has to cheat on her husband! He finds out and takes her to a place where surely she will die of cholera, if not ennui! Can this marriage be saved? That Edward Norton, he’s so dashing and confident! Ok, maybe not so dashing, but he looks good in a suit or a lab coat. He’s like the Superman of nerdy Everymen. The fact that here he basically tries to kill her (i.e., by bringing her into an epidemic of a highly contagious disease) kind of takes some of the shine away.

The Chinese scenery is wonderful, though, and everyone seems earnest enough. But it was all maddening dull for me, up until the final twenty minutes or so, when the chemistry of the two leads really clicked. Overall, not a complete miss by any means, but not to everyone’s taste, particularly those of us who are impatient.

**1/2

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One Response to “323 – The Painted Veil”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    are you an idiot or a woman by heart?

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