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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Weight of Water
The Weight of Water
Lionsgate Home Entertainment // R // March 4, 2003
List Price: $24.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted March 8, 2003 | E-mail the Author
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The Weight of Water is based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Anita Shreve, interweaving tales of lust and betrayal more than a century apart. Half of the movie takes place in 1873 amidst the murder of two Norwegian immigrants, sisters-in-law Karen and Anethe Christenson. A lazy, lecherous German named Louis Wagner was convicted of the grisly axe murder, due primarily to the damning testimony of Maren Hontvedt (Sarah Polley), Karen's sister and the sole survivor of that night's events. Despite Wagner's conviction and subsequent hanging, considerable doubt has lingered for over a hundred years as to what really transpired. Journalist Jean James (Catherine McCormack) has traveled to the remote New Hampshire island in the hopes of unearthing the long-buried truth. Jean is joined by her Pulitzer Prize-winning poet husband Thomas (Sean Penn), his brother Rich (Josh Lucas), and his new fling, the unrelentingly flirty Adaline (Elizabeth Hurley). Perhaps some hope lingered in the back of Jean's mind that this trip could bring her closer together to her distant husband, but Thomas' attentions appear to be more closely focused on the seductive Adaline.

I might have enjoyed The Weight of Water more if the focus had been placed more squarely upon the Smuttynose murders. The portions set in the present drag the film, which approaches two hours in length, down to a screeching halt and practically into soap opera territory. Sean Penn seems as disinterested in the movie as his character is in his wife, and his on-screen brother Rich is hopelessly bland as the requisite nice guy. The only one among them with any presence is Elizabeth Hurley, who at one point sucks on ice cubes and rubs them across the length of her nearly naked body. As welcome as a bare-breasted Elizabeth Hurley is, she's so seductive that it almost seems cartoonish, like a softcore page lifted from from Cinemax's "Friday After Dark". The segments in 1873 fare a little better, thanks in part to Sarah Polley, who puts in a better performance than her four modern-day counterparts combined. Though Jean struggles for the length of the film to determine who the real culprint was, the guilty part is telegraphed to the audience well in advance. This effectively dulls whatever element of mystery may otherwise have been present, "dull" being the operative word. Despite an assortment of elements that sound so decidedly lurid, The Weight of Water is a bore.

Somehow managing to escape from Lion's Gate's vaults after a couple of years of collecting dust, The Weight of Water was almost universally panned by critics upon its delayed release late last year. Following its lackluster theatrical run is the inevitable home video release, which isn't any more remarkable than the movie itself. Like a number of films that suffer similar delays and a lack of confidence from their distributors, The Weight of Water features little in the way of supplemental material, but at least the movie looks and sounds rather nice.

Video: The Weight of Water is presented in anamorphic widescreen at an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The image is generally crisp and detailed, and a number of the scenes set on Rich's yacht teeter on perfection. Colors, when given the opportunity, are stunningly vibrant, particularly in the bright, sunny exteriors. The film isn't entirely bathed in such bright light, but even in these more dimly-lit portions, the image doesn't devolve into a murky, indistinguishable mess. There are a couple of scattered instances that appear rather unusual, though these can almost certainly be attributed to the original photography. When Thomas and Jean are first introduced on the road, the bottom third or so of the frame is unusually soft, looking as if someone had smeared Vaseline on the camera lens. Around thirteen minutes in, footage of Jean chasing an apparition is rather soft, featuring dull blacks and an almost overwhelming amount of grain. There are a handful of tiny specks, but nothing terribly intrusive. These quibbles are rather minor, and the presentation as a whole is very solid.

Audio: Much of The Weight of Water takes place outdoors, keeping the surround channels of the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio constantly buzzing with activity. Some sort of ambiance is invariably being provided by the rears, including crowd noise as Wagner faces his death, seagulls and various insects, the lapping of water, gusts of wind, and torrential rain. Surrounds also reinforce the score by David Hirschfelder, the Academy Award-nominated composer behind Elizabeth and Shine. The nature of the material doesn't ask much of the lower frequencies, but the subwoofer roars to life during some of the more intense dreams and flashbacks, as well as crashing waves and thunder.

This DVD release of The Weight of Water also includes a separate Dolby stereo surround track. Closed captions have not been provided, but the disc includes subtitles in both English and Spanish.

Supplements: A full-frame trailer for The Weight of Water is accessible from the main menu, running just over two minutes and sporting Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Selecting the Lion's Gate logo displays a stereo trailer for Secretary (2:19), presented in anamorphic widescreen at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1.

The disc's menus are enhanced for widescreen televisions, and the main menu and accompanying transitions are animated. The Weight of Water has been divided into twenty-four chapters.

Conclusion: Despite its first-rate cast and potentially engaging source material, The Weight of Water bobs around lifelessly in the brine of boredom. Fans of the talent involved and those who have read Anita Shreve's popular novel may find this movie worth a rental, but I wouldn't recommend The Weight of Water as a purchase sight-unseen. Rent It.

Related Links: The official site for The Weight of Water has more information about the movie's premise, the cast and filmmakers, and a widescreen theatrical trailer. The Smuttynose Murders of 1873 has details on the case that inspired the novel and subsequent film.
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