231 of 241 people found the following review helpful
on September 24, 2007
Don't let my 5 stars fool you into thinking that I think all will love this film; however, I did.
This film is not to everyone's taste, but I found it extraordinary. This kind of film typically attracts those who like films like The English Patient (which I hated) and The Horse Whisperer (which I loved). This is a period piece that doesn't need its period to be relevant. This is a location film that doesn't need its location to be believable. This is a slow-moving story that doesn't need action to be engrossing. This is a masterpiece that doesn't need improvement.
The story is both simple and multi-layered. Naomi Watts, totally unrecognizable from her The Ring and King Kong films, is basically a spoiled brat who would prefer to live off her father's money than to buy into the trappings of marriage (as she sees it). In a moment of spiteful rage against her mother, she intentionally marries a "civil servant" (one viewed beneath her), extremely well-played by Edward (American History X) Norton who equally disappears into his role as a shy man who is rather infatuated with Watts but respectful of the fact she doesn't love him, but hopes she will one day over time. This is a time when arranged marriages were common and for a husband to be as respectful as Norton's role is refreshing. He never forces himself on his wife and she does eventually warm up to him, but considers him a terrible bore.
No spoiler here to mention that the first interesting man that comes along, Liev Schreiber who is effectively self-centered, she beds in her own home. Later, to her surprise, her husband is not only not a blind fool like she thought, but is keenly aware of how people react to situations and has a better understanding of the more base emotions than his self-centered wife. For all her so-called worldly wisdom, she can't read emotions or people very well at all and has little understanding of the consequences of her own actions as she blames the man she willingly married (to spite her mom) for her own affair because he wasn't interesting to her.
In what appears to be retaliation for his wife's callous indiscretion, Norton, who has been quiet and respectful, comes down hard on his wife and volunteers to become a doctor in a remote town in China where they are dropping like flies due to an infectious illness. He knows it may spell certain death to both of them. He offers her the choice of an ugly discrediting divorce for infidelity, which will bring down her politician lover, or go with him. In this time period, that is no choice at all. She goes with him and, at first, we believe him to be incredibly cruel in doing this until we see him at work.
We identify more with Watt's shock at going to this deadly village and are appalled that Norton would do this as "punishment" regardless of the terrible thing she did to him, but we gradually learn that he is actually motivated to save others even at great risk to himself and he had been planning this for awhile and at a time when he might have been able to trust his wife to not have affairs. In addition, either intentionally or unintentionally, we are never sure, Norton gets his wife to see something admirable in him. He may have seemed initially cruel to his wife and he may well have intended this trip as some kind of punishment to both he and his wife, however, he is a multi-layered character who consistently surprises us (and his wife). So much for being "boring."
To give away more would spoil the story, but this is a memorable film that is touching and honest in how it deals with our basic human emotions of love, hate, jealousy, and personal desires. I highly recommend this film, but I'm aware that this kind of story may not appeal to everyone. Even if this is not your typical genre, give it a try. You have nothing to lose but two hours of time and everything to gain by having your deepest emotions touched.
314 of 335 people found the following review helpful
Co-produced and co-starring Naomi Watts and Edward Norton, W. Somerset Maugham's novel comes to life in living color. Beautiful cinematography and symphonic music embellish a wonderful, heart-warming story of love and forgiveness.
Kitty (Watts) is getting older. Living in 1920's London, her parents have more to say with impunity about her suitors. Quick to pursue her, Walter Fane (Norton) pushes himself for courtship against her wishes, but the timing leaves her no choice but wedlock. Interrupted in their social life, they become a foursome with Charlie Townsend (Liev Schreiber) and his wife. Charlie, a virile alternative to her drab, doctor husband, tempts her into adultery. In such an arrangement, women didn't have the freedoms they do now. So when Walter is assigned to treat a cholera epidemic in Shanghai, he's privy to her affair and can blackmail her to come along or face the scorn of divorce. Since her lover is a playboy who abhors attachment anyway, she again has no choice.
Life in China at first offers nothing more than disease and disenchantment. Bored with her life and keeping in seclusion to avoid cholera, her husband spreads nothing but flinty resentment toward her unfaithful presence. Besides a stunning landscape, she discovers a convent where a wise, old mother superior charms her heart and inspires her to do at first repellant work with the orphans. Besides the dangers of disease, the locals are slow to warm up to any foreigner's presence, even one that may offer a solution to their health crisis.
More moving than its beautiful cinematography, Norton's and Watt's splendid performances work well with a captivating story of lust and love, betrayal and forgiveness, and selfishness turned to self-giving. While some viewers may find some of the old-fashioned elements of the film languorous in places, I feel the picture clocks in just right for the state of affairs. Superbly crafted, 'Painted Veil' is complete with a heart-melting beauty for the soul as well as for the eyes.
67 of 70 people found the following review helpful
Lift not the painted veil which those who live
Call Life: though unreal shapes be pictured there,
And it but mimic all we would believe
With colours idly spread,--behind, lurk Fear
And Hope, twin Destinies; who ever weave
Their shadows, o'er the chasm, sightless and drear.
"The Painted Veil" is old school, not just because it is based on W. Somerset Maugham's 1925 novel, but also because this 2006 movie has sensibilities more akin to the Hollywood of the 1930s (when the movie was first filmed with Greta Garbo and Herbert Marshall), than of today. There was a story in the news this week about a controversial and racy billboard in Chicago that proclaimed "Life's short. Get a divorce." The billboard was taken down after a week, over the objections of the two divorce attorneys who put it up, but there is no denying that divorces have become a lot more popular since Maugham's day (the high water marked was 1980 in the U.S. when the divorce rate topped out at 41%). I bring this up because "The Painted Veil" is about two people who do not get divorced, and not because they are staying together for the sake of the children, because there are not any children. It is a love story, but one of the most unromantic ones that I have ever seen, which is, rather surprisingly, not a bad thing.
Kitty Garstin (Naomi Watts) is the daughter of an unambitious solicitor whose inflated idea of herself has seen her reject all possible suitors. But when her younger sister marries and her mother (Maggie Steed) asks pointedly how long she intends to live off of her father, the confluence of events compels her to accept the marriage proposal of Walter Fane (Edward Norton), a young bacteriologist who is heading off to China. This is hardly the foundation for a marriage and in Hong Kong the bored Kitty ends up having an affair with Charlie Townsend (Liev Schreiber). When Walter discovers the affair he agrees to let Kitty divorce him if Townsend will divorce his wife and agree to marry Kitty. When Townsend refuses Kitty is stunned, and with nowhere else to go she follows Walter as he volunteers to deal with a cholera epidemic in the interior of China. It is there that the husband and wife find themselves changing.
The title of "The Painted Veil" is taken from a sonnet by Percy Bysshe Shelley, the opening sestet of which is quoted above, and I find it insightful that Maugham's characters do not take the poet's advice. Almost of as much interest as what is happening between Walter and Kitty is the way he comes to understand that all of his scientific and medical knowledge is of no value if he cannot persuade the locals how to deal with the epidemic. This is a minor part of the story, and it is the omnipresent threat of cholera that is of more importance to the way things work out in "The Painted Veil," but still a nice little critique of the arrogance of Europeans in dealing with the Third World in the screenplay by Ron Nyswaner ("Philadelphia").
Director John Curran ("We Don't Live Here Anymore") was able to film the entire movie in China, but the beautiful vistas shot by Stuart Dryburgh ("The Piano") serve as the setting for the story and never overwhelm it the way that usually happens in a David Lean epic. The performances by the main characters, including Toby Jones as Waddington and Diana Rigg as the Mother Superior, are uniformly understated in keeping with the cultured reserve of their characters, and that may well explain why my appreciation for the moment of mutual redemption for Kitty and Walter is more intellectual than emotional. Of course, back in the day this story was probably as much of a stiff-upper lip tearjerker as you were going to find in literature.
Final Note: The only extra you will find on this DVD is a trailer for the movie, but unless I have gone completely insane this is a different trailer than the one I saw on other DVDs that inspired me to check out this movie. This one gives away specific details regarding the characters and plots that I do not remember seeing in that other trailer, which is why I was able to get into this movie with no expectations beyond that indicated by the presence of Norton, Watts and company that this film was going to take the high road (Update: I found that other trailer on another DVD and, indeed, it gives away very little of the story, which is much more effective than the one accompanying the actual movie).
147 of 160 people found the following review helpful
on February 5, 2007
Some stories portray life in many shades and make all the shades look equally remarkable, even though some shades are bright and some are truly gloomy. The Painted Veil is an outstanding example of such a versatlie story. The movie brilliantly narrates the lives of a couple who marry to pursue conflicting goals and end up uniting in every way. Ed Norton and Naomi Watts deliver one of the best performances of their lives and leave the audience spell bound in a movie that boasts of nothing dramatic and yet is a drama in the purest form. Set in England and China of 1920's, this movie depicts the love, the lack of it, and again the love between a couple whose pursuits were different but led them to one goal. To sum it, The Painted Veil is a sedate, sober and yet stunningly beautiful movie that will engage and enthrall you.
25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
It's very unusual, these days, to see a husband and wife, seemingly "mismatched," grow through marriage into a true and deep love for one another. Kitty is self-absorbed and pleasure-seeking, Walter is serious, oriented toward research and service. Bound to fail, right? Eharmony would never pair these two...and some marriage counselors would say, "Forget it."
Others have described the plot very well, I won't repeat it here. It's easy to downgrade Kitty, she marries for all the wrong reasons...but she's right that virtuous guys can sometimes be boring. Edward Norton does a fantastic job of portraying the intellectual loner who is originally spellbound by Kitty...so spellbound that he doesn't really relate to her as she is...she is almost an object of worship to him. Naturally this fails to awaken her passion. Not that I am meaning to excuse her, just to say that there is room for growth in BOTH people in this movie. When he is cuckolded, Walter reacts by retreating into rigid rectitude...but we always know that he still loves Kitty, even though he is terribly hurt and cannot believe that she will ever change. When they begin to open up to each other again, Walter is transformed as well, moving beyond his initial one-dimensional view of Kitty to accept her as a person that he can respect, even though she is still the lighthearted musician who plays for the orphans to dance. He is more of a man, and she has grown into womanhood by falling in love with his virtue...not just any virtue, but HIS.
It's a fine movie. Not slow, unless you have no taste for nuance and beauty. Waddington and his Chinese girlfriend are a sort of Mozartian parallel couple (Papageno/Papagena) to Walter and Kitty (Tamino/Pamina). It is clear from the brief focus on the girlfriend that she truly loves Waddington. Kitty's realization of this is a turning point, and this scene is masterfully acted by all.
On top of all that, the music, from French folk song to Satie, is used with perfect appropriateness to the action. The ending is realistic and perfectly satisfying, even though not "happy" in the traditional sense. 5 stars, you bet!
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on May 14, 2007
I wasn't sure what I was expecting when I came to this film: a standard period drama perhaps. I'd heard mixed reviews, a lackluster trailer, and it was overlooked by the awards bodies in 2006, but I was pleasantly surprised in the quality of the film and the performances in particular.
Nothing about this film is fast or surprising really. We know essentially who our characters are in the first 5 minutes, Walter meets Kitty at a party and asks her to dance. The next day he proposes and she accepts. We know he proposes because he is a rational, intelligent man, used to organization and reason. He falls in love with Kitty suddenly and without reason, but the only way he knows how to respond is to act on it. He's a doctor going to Shanghai to study a cholera epidemic and he loves her- the reasonable thing to do is to marry her and take her with him. She accepts his proposal to get as far away from her mother as humanly possible. The pair are obviously mismatched. Kitty likes Walter well enough but she's a fun loving girl, slightly shallow, fond of gossip, games, dancing and theater. He's an intellectual who is socially awkward. It's not surprising that Kitty has a fling with another Englishman in Shanghai. Walter finds out and is naturally devistated. He offers Kitty a respectable, quiet divorce only if her lover agrees to marry her. He doesn't. As a sort of punishment for her adultery Walter volunteers to serve as a doctor for a small inland village ravaged by cholera. Kitty is to come with him. What is intended as a punishment turns out to be their salvation.
All we need to know about the nature of the characters is established in the first 45 minutes of the film. We're told little but shown everything. With a smile Kitty shows us she's not always genuine, she enjoys a party but has a two faced side to her. In handing a gift to Kitty, Walter shows us his awkwardness, his kindness, and his fear of the woman he loves. As soon as he says he's an epidemiologist we know he's passionate about is work. Naomi Watts and Edward Norton subtly convey every emotion of their characters by their tone of voice, the ways they stand in one anothers presence. Neither has a meldramatic scene or a grand declaration but they exhibit the heights of human emotions.
Ultimately the actions of other characters, and imperialism itself are viewed through the lens of each character. Kitty sees nuns taking care of the children in an orphanage and says how wonderful they are. Walter says, that yes, the children benefit but Kitty should also keep in mind that the nuns are not totally altrustic: they pay the families of children to give them their babies so they can raise them as Catholics. The children are cared for and protected but also denied their culture. The film itself presents these concerns but doesn't pass judgement. That is left up to the viewer.
Also particuilarly worthy of note are the settings, the stunning backgrounds of China's mountains and rivers. The lush greenery is shot with somewhat muted tones. Alexandre Desplat's score compliments the muted visuals of the film. It's subdued and evocative with occasional Asian influences sprinkled throughout.
The Painted Veil is one of those films where more than one aspect is well above average and that elevates the film as a while. This isn't a Merchant-Ivory film but it could pass for one: the beautiful visuals, excellent performances, amd strong score recall literary adaptations such as Howard's End or A Room With A View.
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
"The Painted Veil" is a remarkable movie. From the first haunting notes of Eric Satie's "Gnossienne" to the last plaintive chanson in which we hear the voice of Kitty (Naomi Watts) promising never to forget, the viewer will be mesmerized. Music, in fact, is integral to the story: the Satie piece, which recalls the first encounter of Kitty and Walter (Edward Norton) in an elegant London salon, becomes metaphorical of their troubled marriage as she plunks it out on an out-of-tune upright piano in a rundown convent in China of the 1920s.
The beautifully understated performances of Watts and Norton underscore the complexity of Maugham's seemingly simple story. Particularly notable is the poignant performance of Diana Rigg as the elderly Mother Superior whose own marriage to god has become strained by too many years in the unforgiving climate of rural China, ravaged not only by warring factions but also by cholera.
The lush silk dresses worn by Watts evoke a bygone era, and the superb cinematography transforms what one suspects is smog into a seemingly painted backdrop of looming mist-enshrouded crags that appear to hover between earth and sky, just as the fates of the characters hover between life and death.
40 of 46 people found the following review helpful
on April 5, 2007
If you like a story that deals with the basics of human experience---what love is and what it is not... you will enjoy this film. If you want lots of noise, speed and sensation, rush down to your local Cineplex where you'll find lots of trash that will satisfy your taste.
We see how the main characters are thrown together by circumstances and how their decisions shape their lives. I didn't read the novel so I can't comment on how well the film adapts it but I found it to be very complete and satisfying, which is not always the case when a screenwriter has to cram hundreds of pages into into a two hour script.
You can tell that this was a labor of love for Ed Norton, whose performance as the repressed doctor is perfect. His character is awkward and shy, more at home in a laboratory than at a party. He is hardly attractive and so is powerfully attracted to his opposite--a beautiful, careless socialite who has nothing on her mind other than disliking her dreadful mother. Her mother forces her marry, or be cut off from support, so having no other option in sight, she accepts the proposal of this hapless doctor.
A recipe for disaster! They go to China, where she is temporarily distracted, by another expatriot, a charming, married fellow, who possesses all the excitement that her poor husband lacks and they soon fall into something like love. When her husband discovers her affair he forces her to accompany him to rural China, where cholera is ravaging the population. Wow! If she thought life back in London was a bummer, this brings misery to a whole new level!
Besides cholera, there is political unrest, so danger presents itself on all sides. She and her husband soon detest each other and she tries to contact her ex-lover to rescue her. Alas! she learns that she was only one of a string of dalliances that this cad had indulged in.
I won't divulge the rest of the story. See this and enjoy it for yourself!
Naomi Watts' performance equals Norton's and they are fascinating to watch as each of them evolves. The shots of China are lovely without being overwhelming. This is a perfectly satisfying movie on all levels.
26 of 30 people found the following review helpful
Based on M. Somerset Maugham's novel of the same name, "The Painted Veil" explores a young couple's desperation and self-loathing that lead to self-discovery amid the lovely countryside and civil unrest of 1925 China. Kitty (Naomi Watts) was a London party girl who couldn't settle on a husband, much to her parents' chagrin. Family pressures and the opportunity to one-up her sister finally convinced Kitty to accept the proposal of a rather serious, bookish, and smitten bacteriologist Walter Fane (Edward Norton). Not her type. But they are shortly off to Shanghai, China, where Walter manages a government laboratory. Petulant, bored, and accustomed to being indulged, Kitty has an affair with conspicuously charming Vice Consul Charlie Townsend (Liev Schreiber). In anger, Walter insists that his wife accompany him to the interior of China, where he has volunteered to work at a hospital that is being deluged by the worst cholera epidemic in years.
Something is lacking in the attraction between these two characters, even as the emotional distance between them lessens. But what Walter and Kitty lack in chemistry, they make up for in gripping mutual and self-hatred. They do more than tempt fate to punish them; they compete to be the most brazenly self-destructive. The credit is mostly due Edward Norton, who imbues Walter's self-loathing with the calculated ferocity of a normally careful man who is deeply wounded. Kitty's desperate boredom and isolation in the countryside force her gaze inward. The chaotic, threatening eruption of disease and anti-foreign sentiment push the couple together. "The Painted Veil" has a anti-colonial air which might be misleading given Chiang Kai-Shek's distaste for striking workers and his complex relationship with the Treaty Ports. But Walter's efforts to help peasant populations in spite of themselves comments on the double-edged sword of third world intervention. The intriguing milieu bolsters the film's inconsistently compelling emotions to create a successful character drama.
The DVD (Warner Brothers 2007): The only bonus feature is a theatrical trailer (2 min). Subtitles are available in English, French, and Spanish.
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Though some readers who are familiar with the novel, 'The Painted Veil', may have quibbles about the altered sequences and places of action and character emphasis in Ron Nyswaner's screenplay, those disparities pale in comparison to the superb acting and cinematic treatment of Maugham's story about the development of love in the most unlikely situation. John Curran directs his superb cast with fluid movement, allowing the story to unfold in flashbacks in a manner suggestive of the longing and the nightmares of dreams.
Bacteriologist physician Dr. Kane (Edward Norton) is devoted to his work, and part of his work is to quickly marry so that he may proceed with his obsession with his career. In London he is introduced to the reluctant Kitty (Naomi Watts), a lass who continues to look for the perfect love of her life, but is confronted with reality when her father demands she marry. Kitty is not attracted to Dr. Kane but agrees to marry him and soon they are off to China. While in Shanghai (no, not Hong Kong) Kitty is bored until she meets Charlie Townsend (Liev Schreiber) who, though married and a man of public image, sweeps Kitty off her feet. Their affair is discovered by Dr. Kane and he insists that Kitty either follow him to a small village in interior China, a town besieged by cholera, or go public with a divorce. Kitty turns to her lover Charlie who refuses to divorce his society wife and Kitty sadly follows her husband to the sick village.
Once settled in the village the couple is befriended by a fellow British gentleman Waddington (Toby Jones) and while Dr. Kane works devotedly with his patients and his epidemiological efforts to stem the cholera, Kitty finds refuge with a group of nuns who care for the children of the dead. The Mother Superior (Diana Rigg) helps Kitty to adjust and to see the inherent good in her husband, a man who is not only a fine physician but also able to accept the fact that his once disconsolate wife is pregnant, probably as a result of her dalliance with Charlie Townsend. As the couple begin to accept and appreciate each other the disease strikes home and the story ends with evidence of inner growth in everyone involved.
Norton, Watts, Jones, and Rigg are radiant in their understated roles - Norton's English accent is superb. The beauty of the film is due in a large part to the beauty of the landscapes of China, but also in an equal part to the eloquent cinematography of Stuart Dryburgh and the musical score composed by Alexandre Desplat (with a nod to Satie) and played by pianist Lang Lang. The film is as soft in appearance as a painted veil and the mood it creates lingers - even for those who prefer the written version! Grady Harp, May 07