The Weight Of Water

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The Weight Of Water

Working from Anita Shreve's novel, an ambitious fusion of speculative non-fiction and a fictional parallel, Kathryn Bigelow's The Weight Of Water takes an enormous risk by overlaying two tenuously related stories—one in the 1870s, one in the present—and hoping they rhyme. Neil LaBute recently attempted a similar feat with his adaptation of A.S. Byatt's Possession, but the connections between two dewy-eyed academics and their 19th-century counterparts was too plain to miss, even if they were ultimately superficial. Bigelow faces the opposite challenge, which proves far more daunting: Her stories have no superficial connection, save for the overarching theme of female jealousy, so she has to improvise some other glue to graft them into a whole. In general, novelists have greater freedom in making these associations; filmmakers are anchored by dialogue and images, which are usually too literal for the job. Better known for hard-hitting genre fare such as Near Dark, Point Break, and Strange Days, Bigelow struggles to recast herself as a visual poet, but her deeply pretentious reverie never comes close to cohering. Part of the problem is the present-day story's insufferable crew, an overprivileged foursome that sets out on a yacht to investigate an infamous double murder that took place on the Isles of Shoals 125 years earlier. On assignment for a magazine, photographer Catherine McCormack immerses herself in the unsolved murder mystery, while husband Sean Penn, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, eyes his brother's new girlfriend (Elizabeth Hurley), who's drawn to Penn like a groupie to a rock star. As this Knife In The Water scenario begins to take shape, so does the inexorable tragedy on a barren island in 1873, where the crime's sole survivor (Sarah Polley) takes up residence with oafish husband Ulrich Thomsen, committing to a life of joyless, backbreaking work. Polley's resentment grows with the arrival of her husband's sister (Katrin Cartlidge) and her beloved brother (Anders Berthelsen), who surprises her with new wife Vinessa Shaw. After the two other women are found bludgeoned to death, the murders are pinned on a swarthy laborer, but McCormack suspects that the courts overlooked the true impetus behind the crime. The only real correlation between the past and the present is how McCormack's anger over her husband's indiscretions draws her closer to Polley's troubled psyche, which is withered away by submerged passions and a dead marriage. Perhaps because the present-day characters are such insufferable twits—especially the brooding Penn, who's given to tossing around stanzas by Yeats and Dylan Thomas—the modern story feels like a device, a flimsy entrée into events that would be better accessed directly. Is it really worth the trouble to tease out the link between immigrants making their way in the New World and Hurley icing down her nipples?