With Kathryn Bigelow's latest film, Detroit, opening wide this week, I am revisiting this project that I sadly left unfinished several years earlier. This installment has been edited here and there, mostly to more clearly and accurately make my point regarding objectification in the movie,
The Film: The Weight of Water
The Year: 2000
The Plot: Photojournalist Jean Janes (Elizabeth McCormack) heads to an island off the coast of Maine/New Hampshire with her poet husband Thomas (Sean Penn), her brother-in-law Rich (Josh Lucas) and her brother-in-law’s girlfriend Adaline (Elizabeth Hurley) to take pictures of the land where a brutal double murder occurred more than a century earlier. While there she finds herself increasingly doubting her husband’s fidelity.
In the midst of this story, the film flashes back several times to the murders and subsequent trial that led to the hanging of a possible innocent man.
The Issues: Infidelity- As mentioned above, Janes grow progressively convinced that her husband is cheating on her, specifically with Adaline. Although this is eventually disproven, what is not is whether or not Thomas is actually emotionally faithful to her. There is plenty of evidence in the film that, in fact, the reason for Jean’s fears do not come from Adaline, really, but rather the legacy of the “one that got away” and broke her husband’s heart. Essentially, every successful poem he has written has been about that lost love so the film heavily suggests that he is forever “with” that previous woman and thus his relationship with Jean is never truly emotionally monogamous. Therefore, when she witnesses the mild flirtation between Thomas and Adaline, the general provocative presentation of Adaline—a scene involving an ice cube would be difficult for anyone to ignore—and, especially, Adaline’s blatant hero worship of the poet, she is forced to confront this long boiling reality. However, she displaces it on to Adaline initially rather than acknowledge the spectre of the other woman that has probably been the third in the Janes’ marriage for years.
Guilt and Innocence- The movie, like the book it is based, posits that the convicted and executed Louis Wagner (Ciaran Hinds) was innocent while the witness against him (Sarah Polley) was the real killer. The book lays out the evidence more convincingly than the movie does, but a brief trot around the internet seems to reveals that both are forwarding a fairly unlikely theory.
The Opinion: Trading in her more modern stylistic flairs for a gauzier approach in the flashback scenes and a more sun saturated travelogue polish in the present day story, Bigelow offers a great looking movie here. It’s just a shame the whole thing is so damn inert.
The cutting between then and now undermines the dramatic momentum of both stories throughout the movie. Moreover, I found the scenes in the past largely uncompelling, despite boasting arguably the two best performances in Hinds’ curdled suaveness and Polley’s duplicitousness. Plotwise, the present day is a bit more meaty, but acting both maudlin (McCormack) and somnambulistic (Penn) never stop undermining it. On the latter’s performance, the movie at least attempts to justify it by suggesting he is a bit of the walking dead, forever locked in the past. I appreciate that idea, but there still needs to be something to chew to make that work. You never feel like Thomas is broken, only bored.
I will say though, I did find Lucas’s Rich to be a bit of fresh air in what is a pretty thankless role with very little space to do anything memorable with. He does not exactly overcome the script but in a movie that seems overly dedicated to being as heavy as possible, he is the only one exploring a different speed.
On the complimentary side, I will say that Bigelow nicely captures why Adaline is such a threat to Jean largely without letting the camera objectify Hurley for her body. That is no easy feat, but somehow she makes it work. When the camera does, shall we say lovingly, explore Adaline’s form, it makes it clear that it is being seen through Jean’s eyes. Her fear of the other woman weaponizes Adaline’s natural easy and obvious sexuality and renders it a more threatening and ramped up version of itself.
The Conclusion: It’s a slog. A pretty slog, but a slog nonetheless.