In 10 Words or Less
Exploring the love of a woman for a child
If you're not a regular at The Angelika and you heard of Birth, more than likely, all you know of it is that Nicole Kidman takes a bath with a young boy. Well, there's a lot more to this film, but I'm going to assume the majority of those checking out Birth will be highly disappointed when they reach this moment in the movie. It's simply not that big a deal, and hardly central to the film.
The movie begins with a lengthy scene that follows Sean, a man running in Central Park on a snowy day. The sense of dread built as his run continues, echoing the long drive at the start of The Shining, pays off more immediately, as he dies suddenly, a child is born, and 10 years pass. Now the man's wife, Anna (Kidman), is ready to move on, preparing to marry her fiancee, Joseph (Danny Huston, The Aviator).
It's then that she meets Sean, a 10-year-old boy, who claims to be Anna's husband. He knows many things about Anna's life, and has an otherworldly sense of maturity. Of course, considering his physical appearance, no one believes him, and he is shooed aside. His persistence is haunting, and soon, some of Anna's circle begin to question the situation, including Anna herself. The possibility that this boy could be the reincarnation of her husband takes root in her mind, and she starts to question her engagement and her emotions.
Visually, director Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast) has made a Stanley Kubrick film, with the psychological drama of Roman Polansky's best work. The look of Birth, with stately settings and long, meandering shots, is simply beautiful. Everything is measured and exacting, giving the film the feel of the society it represents. One interesting choice, leaving the camera on Kidman's face, in close-up, for almost three minutes, shows so much with so little, that it might have created one of the best wordless acting performances seen in years.
Acting is where this film finds its true strength, as Kidman sells what could have been a completely unbelievable and vile character, by instilling Anna with a tremendous sense of mental and emotional vulnerability. When she asks this 10-year-old boy whether he can fulfill her needs (and yes, she means it that way) there's no sense that she's doing something wrong. She believes in what's she's feeling.
Cameron Bright, who played a similarly troubled youth in last year's Godsend, is brilliant as a child with an old soul. Evoking the look of a young Rick Schroeder, his soulful eyes burn with belief in what he is saying, making it easy to believe that he is who he says he is. Every bit of his performance is just right for this film.
The same can be said for Anne Heche, who plays a key part as Anna's sister-in-law. Her performance is short, but is handled quite well. As the turning point of the story, whether the film's climax works relies on whether she can pull off a powerful scene in terms of how she interacts with Sean. To her credit, she's very natural and real, and most of the plot's questions are answered. There are a few loose threads, but for the most part, the film is a satisfying look at the nature of love and belief, and whether the heart controls the mind, or vice versa.
Released on one DVD, in a standard, insert-free keepcase, Birth is presented elegantly. In fact, the title of the film isn't even on the main menu. The understated, animated design lists options to play the movie, select scenes, set up languages, and view DVD-ROM Features and trailers. The scene selection menus have still previews and titles for each scene, while the language options include English 5.1 and 2.0 tracks and English and Spanish subtitles. Closed captioning is also included.
The video quality is a bit questionable, mainly because there is an intense amount of grain. In some scenes, the level of grain becomes almost oppressive. Yet, fine detail is quite good and the colors and black levels are very good. Overall, this is a very dark movie, but the image doesn't suffer too much from the softness and grain.
As this is a dialogue-focused drama, a 5.1 Surround audio track might seem excessive, but it's certainly not. That's thanks to an outstanding classical score that creates an amazing amount of tension, emotion and suspense. The scene at the opera, in which the building music serves as an aural metaphor for the unsteady state of Anna's mind, fills the entire sound field, creating an enveloping experience. The dialogue seems to be a bit low in the mix, but it's still clear.
Surprisingly, the only Birth-related extra is the film's anamorphic widescreen theatrical trailer. Other than that, there are four New Line trailers, for Monster-in-Law, The Upside of Anger, Pretty Young Things, The New World and Vera Drake. The main menu lists DVD-ROM features, but there are only the standard New Line promotional materials.
The Bottom Line
The influences of Kubrick and Polanski are undeniable while watching Birth, but it's not like that's a bad thing. That is, as long as you can watch a film loaded with quiet, lingering cinematography. If MTV-style editing is a must for your movie-viewing experience, keep moving. The DVD package is surprisingly empty, a situation that echoes sister studio Warner Brothers' treatment of Ocean's Twelve. Hopefully this isn't a trend towards bare-bones first releases. If you can enjoy a very deliberate, challenging and often creepy film, then the DVD itself can be overlooked. Give it a rent and check out what all the hype was about.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.